PAUL BLEY, GARY PEACOCK, PAUL MOTIAN – WHEN WILL THE BLUES LEAVE / ECM 2642
Paul Bley: piano; Gary Peacock: double bass; Paul Motian: drums
“If music is conversation then questions will come up because in conversation there are many questions. Questions lead to answers, which lead to more questions. That is what makes the music continue: the questions and their answers.”
When Will The Blues Leave, a previously unreleased recording rescued from the archives, bears testimony to the special musical understanding shared by three great improvisers. Long acknowledged by creative musicians as one of the influential groups of the ‘free’ era, Paul Bley’s pioneering trio with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian has been under-represented on record. A 1963 session with this trio formed part of the album Paul Bley with Gary Peacock, which ECM released in 1970, and a 1964 recording on which the three musicians were joined by saxophonist John Gilmore was issued in the mid-70s on Bley’s IAI label. Over the years there were recordings which presented the pianist either with Motian or with Peacock, as well as albums that featured the drummer and bassist in other contexts. But it wasn’t until 1998 that all three protagonists came together again, at Gary’s suggestion, for the ECM recording Not Two, Not One. On its release the following year, the reunited trio of Bley, Peacock and Motian played concerts on both sides of the Atlantic, and we are very pleased to present now this live album, drawn from a performance at Lugano’s Aula Magna in March 1999, which shows the group at the peak of its powers. More than an historical document, it’s also a great-sounding album, one of the finest in Paul’s trio discography.
Paul Bley’s tune “Mazatlan”, which long-time Bley followers first encountered on the album Touching, opens the proceedings and immediately ushers the listener into the trio’s quick-witted world, in which three independent spirits enjoy the fullest range of expression. “The beauty of having a drummer like Paul Motian,” Bley once famously said, “was that you were free to go wherever you wanted. He didn’t play accompaniment. So you didn’t have to worry ‘If I take a left turn will the drummer be able to follow me?’, because Motian had no intention of following you in the first place.” Both Motian and Peacock claim plenty of space inside “Mazatlan” and Bley makes some characteristic explorations of the piano’s lower reaches, with explosive clusters at the deep end.
“Flame” burns steadily, with Bley and Peacock developing what might be described as parallel soliloquies. “Told You So” is a reminder of the pianist’s affection for the blues, constant through the fragmentation of its themes.
The energetic “When Will The Blues Leave”, taken at a flying clip, is a piece that was introduced into Bley’s repertoire in 1958 when the tune’s composer, Ornette Coleman, was a member (along with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins) of Paul’s legendary quintet at the Hillcrest Club in Los Angeles. It can also be heard on the classic Footloose album and on Paul Bley With Gary Peacock. The latter album also includes Peacock’s “Moor”, a composition the bassist has returned to numerous times, always finding new things to play in it (other versions on ECM include a quartet rendering with Jan Garbarek, Tomasz Stanko and Jack DeJohnette on Voice From The Past-Paradigm, and a recent trio interpretation with Marc Copland and Joey Baron on Now This). Here, “Moor” begins as a robust bass solo, which gradually draws Motian’s drums and Bley’s piano into its orbit.
These musicians were never inclined to play anything the same way twice, and “Dialogue Amour”, introduced a year earlier on Not Two, Not One, is transformed in the Lugano performance, with both Peacock and Bley free associating as the piece unfolds. At one point, Paul quotes from “Ornithology” by Charlie Parker (just one of the many giants Bley played with along the way).
In the trio’s first collaborations in the early 1960s, the emphasis had been on original material as a doorway to free playing, but by the 1990s all three musicians, in their various projects, had re-embraced standard repertoire as well. The concluding piece here, Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy” is another fascinating performance, with Bley at first surrendering to its romantic atmosphere, then splintering and abstracting the melody, driven – as he always was – to make the music new.
Further ECM recordings with Paul Bley and Paul Motian include Fragments and The Paul Bley Quartet recorded, respectively, in 1986 and 1987, with a group completed by John Surman and Bill Frisell. In addition to albums mentioned above, Bley and Gary Peacock can be heard together on Ballads (recorded 1967), John Surman’s Adventure Playground (1991) and In The Evenings Out There (also 1991), jointly credited to Bley, Peacock, Surman and Tony Oxley. Gary Peacock and Paul Motian can be heard together with Keith Jarrett on the album At The Deer Head Inn (1992), and on recordings by Marilyn Crispell including Nothing ever was, anyway (1996) - featuring music Annette Peacock originally wrote for Paul Bley’s groups – and Amaryllis (2000).
Paul Bley’s last recording for ECM was the live solo album Play Blue, recorded at the Oslo Jazz Festival in 2008. Paul Motian’s final recording as a leader for the label was Lost In A Dream, recorded 2009, with Chris Potter and Jason Moran. Motian died in 2011, Bley in 2016.
Gary Peacock continues to record new music. Following the dissolution of Keith Jarrett’s ‘Standards’ trio (of which Gary was a member for 30 years), Peacock’s priorities have included his own group with Marc Copland and Joey Baron (albums are Tangents and Now This) and a duo with Marilyn Crispell (documented on Azure).