Bley/Peacock/Motian: Not Two, Not One (ECM 1670)

Not Two, Not One

Not Two, Not One

Paul Bley piano
Gary Peacock double-bass
Paul Motian drums
Recorded January 1998 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This album documents a monumental coming together of pianist Paul Bley, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Paul Motian, a combination not seen on record since Paul Bley with Gary Peacock, laid down in 1963 and issued 1970 as ECM’s third release. Here the trio picks up where it left off some 35 years before, furthering a journey of deconstruction its members have since charted separately in various combinations. And combinations are really what this session is about, for the trio turns kaleidoscopically throughout, emphasizing certain angles over others in a constant shifting of crystals. One moment finds us mired in the quiet urban fantasies of “Don’t You Know,” in which Bley pours out every last drop from his flask of introspection, while the next tantalizes with “Fig Foot” (“Big Foot” by another name), last heard on Adventure Playground. Bley latterly dances like fire, erratic yet unified by elemental force, following a pattern that is beyond our ken. Peacock is duly inspired in his solo against a delicate swing from Motian, who stays the course with an effervescent washtub beat.

The album’s most notable soundings come from Bley’s pianism, which revels in the depths granted it by studio access to a Bösendorfer. Bley bathes in its open possibilities, moving from a sunny intro in “Not Zero – In Three Parts” to lively reveals of the instrument’s vibrating inner core. This touches off a spate of drums from Motian, whose own soliloquy takes root in the ethereal, and inspires from Peacock a solo that balances integrity with unruliness and ushers in the trio proper with bold progression. Bley’s zither-like touches tip the scales toward all-out swing. “Now” similarly digs low, forming a cascading and complex solo of bridge-cabled intensity. “Vocal Tracked” also finds Bley alone, this time pushing notes like pins into an entomologist’s specimen board. Peacock likewise enchants with “Entelechy,” an elliptical solo track that shows a master at work. He further contributes two tunes: the pirouetted “Intente” and the restless marginalia of “Set Up Set.” Each turns itself like a sentient children’s top, waiting for the moment when its inertia will falter.

Yet together is how the trio shines. In “Noosphere” they work as one amorphous blob, carefree yet passionate. A many-petaled solo from Peacock bespeaks an undaunted hand, thereby flinging the veil of obscurity in favor of transparent expression against Motian’s profound susurrations. And after a luxurious dip in the balladic waters of “Dialogue Amour,” the trio tightens the drawstring with “Not Zero – In One Part,” a brief and burrowing coda.

These three sages of modern jazz neither break down borders nor blaze trails. Rather, they ignore those borders altogether and shape their music as it comes: bare yet flavorful enough to shock your taste buds into bliss.

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