Paul Bley: Play Blue: Oslo Concert

Paul Bley’s 1973 album, Open, to Love, set a precedent as both a document of the pianist’s skill in the solo setting and for the rich production that has become an expectation with ECM Records. Despite that artistic success, Bley wouldn’t release another solo album for ECM until 2007, when he returned with Solo in Mondsee. Thankfully, it wasn’t as long of a wait for this third solo piano recital, taken from a performance at 2008’s Oslo Jazz Festival.

Hearing Bley in action, applying his own sense of order to various approaches, still feels electrifying. In Way Down South Suite the blues shows up twice, just long enough for him to twist it around. In the early minutes, he plays a melody in the upper register, giving it a feeling of innocence. Later in the 15-minute piece, he interrupts a different blue line with a dissonant turn, as if to talk himself out of it.

In between, he creates drama with a pregnant pause and muffles piano strings with one hand while striking the keys with the other. The equally lengthy “Far North” springs from a simple chordal riff, where his hands chase one another and briefly lapse into an off-kilter stride; the energy is high even when Bley just lets chords resonate gently. Following a 90-second ovation, the set closes with a rapid upper-register version of Sonny Rollins’ “Pent-Up House,” to which Bley adds some avant-garde thunder for punctuation.

Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at