The reunion of one of the most innovative groups in modern jazz , comprising three players who have changed the nature of the music, is a major event. Although Paul Bley has played with Gary Peacock in diverse contexts over the years and also with Paul Motian, and although Peacock and Motian have established themselves as one of the era's most significant bass and drums teams, this is the first time that all three musicians have recorded together since the album Paul Bley with Gary Peacock (ECM 1003), issued in 1970. The tapes of the trio included on that historic album were recorded in 1963 and selected by Manfred Eicher - along with recordings of a later edition of the group with Billy Elgart on drums - from the mastertapes that then lined Paul's Greenwich Village home. It was music that hinted at the shape of jazz to come from ECM.
The Bley-Peacock-Motian trio followed close on the heels of two other important improvising aggregations involving Bley - his own trio with Steve Swallow and Pete La Roca which recorded the groundbreaking Footloose and the Jimmy Giuffre Trio, whose swansong Free Fall was taped just six months earlier. Bley and Motian were also briefly part of a Gary Peacock Quartet with Sun Ra tenorist John Gilmore (heard on the album Turning Point).
All of these ensembles found new ways to approach the concept of musical freedom. Bley had already played with Charlie Parker, with Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman and acquired a taste for all forms of jazz that overturned expectations. Bley: "It was a very exciting period. The music was changing in leaps and bounds - it had just changed last week, and for all you knew, it could change again tomorrow night. We went to every job with complete optimism." Gradually the group jettisoned the playing of time, moving towards what they then called "free form/free song" playing, in contradistinction to the pure energy music that constituted much free jazz of the period. Subtlety, lyricism and chamber music sensibilities were uppermost. Traditional rhythm section responsibilities could be abandoned and usually were. The musicians explored parallel, improvised parts as they negotiated the new terrain, its waves, its spaces, its silences. "The beauty of having a drummer like Paul Motian," Bley would say later, "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."
The present reunion of these musicians was instigated by Gary Peacock and the way in which the session proceeds bears out a remark Bley made to the bassist at the very beginning of their association: "There is nothing in our contract that says we have to play together, at the same time." This was another innovation, now taken for granted, which turned around the dramaturgy of live jazz performance, and also encouraged Peacock's coming out as a solo bassist second to none. "Entelechy" on "Not Two, Not One" is a fine instance of Gary's solo strength, his choice of notes, and depth of feeling.
Warming up for the session, Bley-Peacock-Motian delivered what the New York Times, in January 1998, called "a quiet, understated, nearly anti-showbusiness performance" at Birdland: "The bassist, pianist and drummer, who have played in various pairs for 35 years but rarely as a trio, long ago signed on to the project of flipping over jazz aesthetics: by erasing clear rhythmic demarcations; making silences emphatic; reimagining swing as an expanding and contracting, hot and cold, speeding up and slowing-down stream of sound, and still improvising with continuous logic and musicality. Their jazz...hinted at deep solitary pleasures rather than outward exultation...Mr Bley was dry to the extreme. He played his changing tempos at an even, medium volume, breaking into fragments of ballads and blues...Even Mr Peacock's lightest notes resonated long and deeply, and he transmitted emotion...Mr Motian's pulse delivered only the essentials. Sometimes one brush on a cymbal every four beats would do the trick, and sometimes he carried out a slowly changing pattern with the loosest possible feel, defining that line between form and atrophy. The set wasn't formless. But some of the tunes seemed to simply arise from the subconscious. Some endings, likewise, were unceremonious and unapologetic, like water wearing down a sandhill." Much of this can be applied to Not Two, Not One. The album also gives us a chance to revisit "Fig Foot", a Bley tune that's become a standard of a sort, surfacing under a variety of titles - "Big Foot", "Pig Foot" "Figfood" - since Paul first recorded it on the ESP album Closer (another new jazz classic) in 1965. It has appeared twice on Paul's ECM recordings - on the aforementioned Paul Bley with Gary Peacock, and on John Surman's 1991 album Adventure Playground (with Bley, Peacock and Tony Oxley).
Always quick to maximise the best characteristics of a given instrument Paul Bley warmed to the low end of the Bösendorfer in New York's Avatar Studios, and "Not Zero: In Three Parts," and "Now" incorporate depth-soundings rare in improvised piano music. Throughout Not Two, Not One the musicians show that they are still able to surprise each other, and us.
Paul Bley was born in Montreal in 1932, where he was recorded with Charlie Parker at the age of 20. Bley moved in fast company from the beginning. The first album under the pianist's name was taped in 1953 for Charles Mingus's Debut label, with Mingus himself on bass and Art Blakey on drums. In 1958, Bley's Californian quintet, the so-called Hillcrest Club group, included Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins - the complete line-up of the history-making Coleman Quartet soon to make headlines on the East Coast.
Through the 60s, Bley played with Mingus, Jimmy Giuffre and Sonny Rollins and led his own trios, whose repertoire drew extensively upon the compositions of Carla Bley and Annette Peacock, effectively putting those composers on the map. After a (controversial) period in which he pioneered electronic improvisation he returned to acoustic music with his 1972 ECM album Open, To Love setting new standards for solo piano playing. For much of the decade, Bley was occupied with administrating his own label, Improvising Artists Inc (IAI), whose catalogue included the first recordings of Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny. In the mid-1980s, Bley's quartet featured John Surman, Bill Frisell and Paul Motian. The group recorded two albums for ECM, Fragments and The Paul Bley Quartet. In the 1990s, he led a trio with Evan Parker and Barre Phillips which also taped two discs for ECM (Time Will Tell and an as yet to be released live album). His credentials as talent scout are up-to-date; he is largely responsible for the (overdue) "discovery" of Joe Maneri.
Best known today as the bassist with Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio, Gary Peacock (born in Idaho in 1935) has had an unusually complete history in the music. His ability to deal with approaches to improvisation that most players would consider mutually exclusive is legendary. This, after all, is the bassist who went from the Bill Evans Trio to the Albert Ayler Trio. He has also worked with Ornette Coleman, George Russell, Miles Davis, Ravi Shankar, Don Cherry, Bill Dixon, Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, Tony Williams, Gil Evans and many others. In the late 1960s, Peacock dropped out of the music scene and lived for some years in Japan. His return to playing and recording was encouraged by ECM; his first album was Tales of Another in 1977, a disc that also introduced the trio of Keith Jarrett, Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette. Other ECM Peacock recordings include December Poems (solo bass album with cameo appearance by Jan Garbarek), Shift in the Wind (with Art Lande and Eliot Zigmund), Voice from the Past (with Garbarek, Tomasz Stanko and DeJohnette), and Guamba (with Garbarek, Palle Mikkelborg, and Peter Erskine). He has also appeared on ECM albums with Bill Connors (Of Mist and Melting) and Markus Stockhausen (Cosi Lontano...Quasi Dentro) as well as on the Jarrett Trio's vast recorded legacy, documented on more than 20 compact discs (including the pollwinning 6-CD set, At the Blue Note, and the Grammy-nominated Tokyo '96). Recently Peacock and drummer Motian have also worked as two-thirds of the Marilyn Crispell Trio, as on the double album Nothing Ever Was, Anyway.
Paul Motian was born in Philadelphia in 1931 and moved to New York in the early 1950s, where he worked with Tony Scott, Gil Evans, Art Farmer, Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano, Zoot Sims and many others. His most famous association is of course with the Bill Evans trio of 1959-64. "Motian's ground-breaking work in the Evans trio originally followed the example of Philly Joe Jones, but went much further in fragmenting the beat and interacting with the other members of the group. This ability lent itself extremely well to situations involving more 'avant-garde' soloists" (Brian Priestly). Motian's first albums as a leader were made for ECM, starting with 1972's Conception Vessel, while the drummer was still a member of the Keith Jarrett Quartet, and continuing with Tribute (with Carlos Ward, Sam Brown, Paul Metzke and Charlie Haden), Dance (with Charles Brackeen and David Izenzon), Le Voyage (with Brackeen, and JF Jenny-Clark), Psalm (with Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, Billy Drewes and Ed Schuller), and It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago (with Frisell and Lovano). Motian and Jarrett were reunited in 1992 on the informal At The Deer Head Inn album - the bassist on that date being Gary Peacock.
The Bley-Peacock-Motian trio is touring Europe in March - with concerts in Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Luxembourg - to promote Not Two, Not One. (For full list of dates, visit our web site at www.ecmrecords.com).