Bley/Parker/Phillips: Time Will Tell (ECM 1537)

Time Will Tell

Paul Bley piano
Evan Parker tenor and soprano saxophones
Barre Phillips double-bass
Recorded January 1994 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Steve Lake

That pianist Paul Bley, reedman Evan Parker, and bassist Barre Phillips had never played as a group before flipping the coin of Time Will Tell matters little. Whether you call heads or tails, you win. The fact that Phillips had played with the two who hadn’t emerges through the sensitive approach he elicits from each. By the same token, one cannot simply say that he tempers what we might be expecting from two powerhouses of the free improv universe. Rather, he spotlights the tenderness already flowing within. The 17.5-minute “Poetic Justice” is proof positive: a meander through darkening trees that breeds not solemnity but a fitful stirring of forest creatures. Parker plays the role of itinerant blues musician mumbling in his sleep. Beyond his chosen paths, the directions are unlimited, their inks varicolored, their maps heavily creased. The trio’s aesthetic borders on beat poetry, pops and whispers taking the place of requisite snaps. With a twang and bend, even a Ravelian shade in the piano, the music soars “Above The Tree Line.” Parker’s soprano, lilting through starlight with immaculate care, forms the top of a pyramid grounded in Phillips’s sands. In this chamber within a chamber, the footsteps of the spontaneous way echo in complex reinforcement. “You Will, Oscar, You Will” is another origami pact of inspiration in which one can almost hear the memory of Paul Motian wanting to join. “Sprung” guides soprano down an ant line of activity, circularly breathing while festooned from galaxies pregnant with impending doom—all making for a sort of agitation that is strangely moving. “No Questions” brings more loveliness into the equation, blowing like a soft curtain through the sunlit room of Andrew Wyeth’s Chambered Nautilus, where only yearning may catch itself from time to time in the reflection of a burnished bedpost. “Vine Laces” and “Clawback” are both wondrous bursts from Parker, who finds respective company with Phillips in one and Bley in the other. “Marsh Tides” promises a smooth jazz number, but instead breaks its fall with measured insight, as honest as it is unplanned, and brings us into “Instance,” another excursion of extended technique between Parker and Phillips, the latter drawing strings of rusted light through “Burlesque.” Shades of late-night happenings end in an abrupt inhalation without repose.

Something grandly intimate is taking place here, for while there may not be much to hold on to in this sound-world of fleeting statements, we are left with an overwhelming amount to mull over. The title of this album is therefore an appropriate one, for only time will tell whether or not its sounds will find a secure place in your listening.

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