Paul Bley: Open, to love (ECM 1023)

 

Paul Bley
Open, to love

Paul Bley piano
Recorded September 11, 1972 at Arne Bendiksen Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Hot on the heels of Chick Corea’s diptych for ECM, and certainly not to be outdone, Paul Bley offers up this sizable helping of solo jazz piano. For lack of a better analogy: if Corea’s improvisations were a large family dinner, Bley’s arrangements would be the lemon meringue to follow. Each track doesn’t so much tell a story as try to make us savor its finer details. Bley seems to channel Keith Jarrett at times (or is it the other way around?), as occasionally his voice will creep in with hints of the latter’s seemingly unbounded ebullience. He also directly plucks and strums the strings inside the piano selectively and with tact, adding a fine metallic ring to his otherwise crystalline playing. Bley coaxes our willing ears and leaves us wanting more of his sweet sounds. The album never seems to stray, even if linear melodies are sometimes difficult to pick out. These pieces are duly heartfelt and his version of Carla Bley’s “Ida Lupino” here is stunning.

If ever the word “lovely” was at risk of going out of style for its kitschy implications, let me make a case for this music as a means of reclaiming its validity. Bley’s intimacy is refreshing and comes across beautifully in the present recording. And while one might make a case for Corea’s improvisations as being “dated” (and this is not a bad thing, for its archival value is only heightened as such), Open feels somehow timeless. It is an album that one grows into. The music is for the most part calm and reflective, but ends with “Nothing Ever Was, Anyway” on a bit of an aggressive note; a catharsis, if you will. So does Bley leave the listener with an intriguing question mark that can only be erased with another listen.

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