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As time moves forward, the albums become more autobiographical - Paul Bley

Play Blue documents a rare solo performance by one of jazz’s great originals, Canadian pianist Paul Bley, recorded live at the Oslo Jazz Festival in 2008 by Manfred Eicher and Jan Erik Kongshaug.

The solo medium is one that Bley first broached on ECM. The 1972 recording Open, To Love was to prove one of the defining works in the unaccompanied genre, and at least as influential in its way as Paul’s classic jazz trio albums of the 1960s’s – such as Footloose!, Touching, Closer – had been. 35 years would elapse before the release of a ‘sequel’ at ECM, Solo at Mondsee, with Bley’s kaleidoscopic transformations of standard themes in a series of variations.

Bley’s vision of musical freedom – as Play Blue again makes plain – is inclusive. Even at the height of the 1960s free jazz movement, Bley argued that the aesthetics of earlier jazz could and should be incorporated by a revolutionary art form. His discography and his live appearances have made the case ever since, with radical, intelligent music whose phrases can reference the blues or bebop, Berg or Bird, Ayler and atonality. In or out of the tradition he still sounds like irreducible Bley in every line. His touch is instantly recognisable.

“I’ve tried to maintain all the advances of jazz,” Bley told biographer Arrigo Cappelletti, “while adding the ability to also play them all free.”

There is nothing else quite like a Paul Bley concert. As the New York Times noted, “Mr. Bley long ago found a way to express his long, elegant, voluminous thoughts in a manner that implies complete autonomy from its given setting but isn't quite free jazz. The music runs on a mixture of deep historical knowledge and its own inviolable principles." Solo in Oslo, Bley, encouraged by an attentive and enthusiastic audience, shapes music in the moment, plays his own compositions, and brings the performance to a fine conclusion in an inspired interpretation of “Pent-Up House”, composed by his one-time employer Sonny Rollins.

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Paul Bley was born in Montreal in 1932. While still in his twenties, he played with Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Chet Baker, and many others. At 21, he made his first album as a leader for Charles Mingus’s Debut label, with Mingus himself on bass and Art Blakey on drums.

Bley’s 1958 quintet helped introduce the talents of Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins to the jazz world. In the early 1960s, as a member of the Jimmy Giuffre Trio and in his own groups, the pianist brought chamber music clarity into the new domain of free jazz.

In New York, he was a founder member of the Jazz Composers Guild, from which the Jazz Composers Orchestra would subsequently evolve.

Bley was amongst the first artists to appear on ECM when Manfred Eicher acquired the tapes that became Paul Bley with Gary Peacock (recorded 1964 and 1968) and Ballads (recorded 1967) – those were issued as ECM 1003 and ECM 1010.

Through the 1970s Bley devoted most of his energies to his own label Improvising Artists whose albums included the first-ever recordings of Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius (as members of Paul’s quartet). In the 1980s he returned to ECM and toured the world with a new quartet with Bill Frisell, John Surman and Paul Motian (as heard on Fragments and The Paul Bley Quartet). This led to two further discs with Surman in 1991: Adventure Playground and In The Evenings Out There. In 1994 a new trio was formed with Evan Parker and Barre Phillips (documented on the recordings Time Will Tell and Sankt Gerold), and the Bley Trio of the 1960s – with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian – was reunited for Not Two, Not One in 1998 Predating all of these, chronologically, is the Jimmy Giuffre 3 album 1961 with the Verve recordings Fusion and Thesis, remixed and re-released by ECM in 1992.

In 2001, The National Library of Canada purchased Bley’s vast archive of tapes and documents, and established the Paul Bley Fonds, an important historical resource for jazz scholars.

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