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Paul Bley: Zen Comedy

Pianist Paul Bley might be called a jazz legend who has long been semi-hiding in plain sight. The Montreal-born musician, a master of loaded lyricism, space and expressive freedom, has been present at numerous critical junctures in jazz history, having played with Charlie Parker, hired a young Ornette Coleman at the Hillcrest Club in Los Angeles, worked with Sonny Rollins, and hosted the first recording of Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius. Over the past 50 years, he has exerted more influence on jazz and contemporary music, generally, than he’s given credit for.

Now 75, Bley continues in earnest, at his own pace and on his own terms, as usual. For a musician who has professed a high priority on the improvisational moment, going back to the earliest days of free jazz, circular waves of history keep intersecting with his flow these days. In August, for instance, Bley had a stint at Birdland in an impressively abstract-cum-visceral trio with old friends and empathetic allies, drummer Paul Motian and bassist Gary Peacock. That trio, which recorded an album for ECM in 1999, goes back to the late ’60s, before both Motian and Peacock ended up in long associations with pianist Keith Jarrett.

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