Paul Bley/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian

When Will the Blues Leave
ECM 2642

By Ken Waxman

Previously unreleased, this 1999 recital finds pianist Paul Bley (1932-2016), drummer Paul Motion (1931-2011) and bassist Gary Peacock (b. 1935) at the height of their mature mutual powers. This Lugano-recorded set is particularly notable since concentration is on the pianist’s infrequently exposed compositions.

A lively run-through of “Mazation” begins the showcase, as nuanced keyboard strategies pulsate and pause with unexpected sonic detours as a sinewy tandem dialogue is established with Peacock. Meanwhile Motian’s shattered clanks help juice Bley’s unexpected bursts of low-pitched emphasis and swelling timbres which recap the head. Not known for funkiness, Bley still invests “Told You” So with a tranche of walking blues even as he fragments the narrative with bent notes and expansive tonal quivers. The selections also encompass a relaxed, impressionistic and balanced variant of “I Loves You Porgy”, taken at a moderate tempo. As well, the bassist’s subtly low-pitched string swipes and pulls alternate with vigorous, lightening-quick patterning when playing his own “Moor”.

Trio skills are best expressed on the Ornette Coleman composed title track, With the pianist’s swift glissandi changing the exposition’s speed and pitch nearly every bar, the performance intensifies once drum rim shots and rattles combine with bass thwacks to emphasize the melody. Yet even as the trio collectively descends the scale to hit a groove, the originality of the tune – and by extension Bley’s conception of it – are confirmed when the ending lacks a conventional pattern completion. Twenty years on, the disc’s vigor and intensity still echo.

-for The Whole Note September 2019