Paul Bley/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian: When Will the Blues Leave (ECM)

A review of the live album from a 1999 concert in Switzerland

Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian, When Will the Blues Leave
The cover of When Will the Blues Leave Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, and Paul Motian

An album’s credits can speak volumes, not just about who plays on a record but how the weight of creation is divided across artists. On When Will the Blues Leave, captured at a 1999 live concert at the Aula Magna di Trevano in Switzerland, the equal billing of Paul Bley, Gary Peacock and Paul Motian forecasts the equal contributions that each musician plays in shaping the group’s sonic geometry. From the moment Motian’s sticks slink across the kit like a tango dancer at the outset of Bley’s “Mazatlan,” spurring his bandmates into dervish-like activity, the dynamics are set for the trio’s mutating music.

That music can feel organic and pulsating, constantly evolving like primordial matter, but also rigid and strongly defined like a hypercube or M.C. Escher lithograph. The group achieves the heights of this state on “Moor,” a Peacock original that sees the three each attempt to stretch the melody and cadence into differing, parallel abstractions. On the title track (an Ornette Coleman composition), Bley’s piano work eventually takes on a spiraling, almost illusory quality as his hands scramble up and down the keyboard.

When Will the Blues Leave is intense in both sound and performance, as Bley, Peacock, and Motian collectively improvise dizzying forms, textures, and melodic ideas in each of the eight tracks. However, such displays don’t always have to rely on aerobics. The three engage in some of Bley’s impressionistic balladry on tracks like “Longer” and “Dialogue Amour.” Then on numbers like “Told You So” and “I Loves You, Porgy,” the rhythm section falls away almost fully, allowing the pianist to wander across the ivories at his own pace, musing on moods and timbres as long as he wants. In these moments, Peacock and Motian show how restraint, even more than technical ability, can strengthen a collective musical vision.

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Jackson Sinnenberg

Jackson Sinnenberg is a broadcast journalist and writer based in Washington, D.C. He serves as an editor for Capitalbop, a non-profit that focuses on presenting live jazz and covering the D.C. jazz scene through grassroots journalism. He’s covered the city’s local jazz scene since 2015 but has covered national and international jazz, rock and pop artists for a variety of publications. He will gladly argue why Kendrick Lamar is a jazz musician. Follow him @sinnenbergmusic.