Jazz CD Reviews
Paul Bley, solo piano – About Time – Justin Time
Published on August 4, 2008
While Paul Bley has performed during his over 50 year career with such jazz lights as Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins , Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins, he has been lately concentrating on solo piano albums. It’s an area he seems to have mastered to an extent not even approached by most other jazz pianists. Bley feels that a performer’s particular personality should always be readily apparent to the listener, and his certainly is.
This CD consists of only two tracks: the first 33 minutes length and the second ten. The entire vernacular and history of jazz piano is woven into Bley’s performances, but not with obvious quotation of various pioneers’ particular riffs. Listening to About Time I was struck by a ballet/dance metaphor: One normally sees oft-repeated movements and gestures in a dance or ballet performance; with Bley it’s like every turn of phrase is an entirely new movement that you never were expecting. He never seems to hang onto an ostinato or montuna with improvisations in the treble over it, as do so many keyboard improvisers. Everything is fresh and follows a special continuity of its own. Some of the passages are delicate and subdued, only to be followed by smashing high-powered chordal statements. But it seldom loses some sort of tonal connection, however stretched. The album title is very adept, because Bley’s music seems unhampered by time – just playing around with it. You have to get yourself into the Big Picture regarding time, and just let it happen. Not so different from the special time concept of a Bruckner or Mahler symphony.
The intensity of the brilliant opening title track here is difficult to describe – it must be experienced. It is constantly evolving before your very ears. The shorter track, an improvisation on Sonny Rollins’ Pent-Up House, uses a more traditional approach but nevertheless takes Rollins’ theme on a fantastic ten-minute journey. Recommended to any jazz piano fan who wants to hear something really fresh and exciting – not just rehashing the same old.
— John Henry