Paul Bley Trio: Paul Plays Carla
(SteepleChase G1303. LP review by Phil Johnson)
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Nils Winther started the SteepleChase label back in 1972 when he was a Copenhagen student. It’s still going strong, including an excellent back catalogue of intriguing recordings that were often built around U.S. guests appearing at the city’s leading jazz venue Club Montmartre (now Jazzhus Montmartre).
Typically recorded quickly yet sensitively with minimal small groups, duos and trios, the resulting acres of acoustic space let instruments really make their mark. Archie Shepp and Horace Parlan playing blues and gospel; Chet Baker, Doug Raney and NHOP live at Club Montmartre, and the divine ‘Diane’ duo by Baker and Paul Bley are among the most aesthetically pleasing titles any jazz collection could have. .
The good news is that SteepleChase has started putting out vinyl again, and Paul Plays Carla (aka Paul Bley Plays Carla), from 1991, is the latest release. In many ways it’s an oddity: pianist Paul Bley (who died in 2016) performs eight compositions (the 1992 CD had two extra tracks) by his one-time wife, composer Carla Bley, to whom he was married between the years 1957 and 1964. A number of the pieces – which date from the time of their marriage – had been recorded by Bley before, sometimes several times, but the great thing about this album is that it features a particular Bley trio, with the super-sensitive team of Marc Johnson on double bass and Jeff Williams on drums, for the first and only time.
It’s a very off-the-cuff sounding recording, with Johnson – the bassist in Bill Evans’s last trio – and Williams (one of the the most subtle of drummers, famed for his recent work in the U.K.) appearing to sit back and listen for much of the time before making their judicious response. The best tunes are for me the most resolutely Carla Bley-ish: ‘Ida Lupino’, whose ear-worm riff on a phrase formed from the syllables of the great actress and director’s name is taken up and down the keyboard and pummelled to within an inch of its life; the blues ’Turns’, which features a great Johnson solo; and the ballads ‘And Now the Queen’ and ’Seven’, on whose supremely lyrical opening Bley sounds the most like the pianist he influenced and is so often compared to, Keith Jarrett.