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Paul Bley: Nothing to Declare

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Paul Bley has made records at such a pace that only the most determined of fans can keep up, so it’s usually difficult for a reviewer to describe a new Bley album as a real standout with any confidence. But Nothing to Declare is something else again. The four lengthy solo improvisations heard here rank with the best things the pianist has done in a career that now covers half a century. Bley has always been underrated by many on the scene, particularly among those who think that Bill Evans is the be-all and end-all of modern jazz piano.

Bley and Evans share some estimable qualities, like the willingness to consistently travel to places that leave the musicians exposed. But those who delight in Evans’ lyricism should sample the more acerbic flavors offered by Bley. Unlike Evans, he never comes off as sticky, and he’s a less-predictable improviser. Both are extremely advanced harmonically, but Evans was more concerned with extrapolating adventurous harmonies by building up chords and was less likely to go into polytonality. This last area is one in which Bley’s approach has evolved considerably.

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