Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Paul Bley - All The Things You Are [Live]

Paul Bley was one of my earliest influences as a pianist. After buying my first Real Book I was intrigued by the tunes without barlines. They all seemed to be written by Carla Bley. I wanted to hear how these tunes sounded, so I went searching for recordings of them, and I came across a Paul Bley record at Wazoo in Ann Arbor. (This was probably in 1999.) It was a double-LP on Arista called "Copenhagen and Haarlem", which came out in 1975 but was a reissue of two dates recorded a decade earlier. Some of Carla's tunes appeared on the record, so I bought it, and my life began to change.

Based on his recordings, I transcribed his versions of Annette Peacock's "Cartoon" and "Touching", and learned to play Carla Bley's "Vashkar", "Syndrome", and "Jesus Maria", as well as Paul's solo on "When Will The Blues Leave" (Footloose! 1962). He had and continues to have a huge influence on my playing.

Yet with all this early influence, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it was just last year that I learned Bley had recorded briefly with Sonny Rollins. In my years of listening to him and trying to play like him, I had never heard his solo on "All The Things You Are" (Sonny Meets Hawk). Thanks to Kevin Sun for sharing his transcription of this remarkable solo.

A little bit later, I found Together At Newport, a quasi-legitimate European release that documents a live performance with the same quintet (with Henry Grimes playing bass instead of Bob Cranshaw). The live set contains a version of "All The Things You Are" with a solo by Paul Bley that is at least as mind-bending as the studio version. In between my other obligations, I finished the right hand in March, and after quite a bit of close listening I was able to figure out most of Bley's left hand. There are a few anomalies which bear mentioning.
  1. The recording fidelity is poor, and Bley in this period had a tendency to "feather" single notes in the left hand. Needless to say, the left hand took more than a little bit of extrapolation and should be played delicately, rather than as usual "comping".
  2. Bley is able to sustain a few pitches at once, in a way that is easiest to explain as left-hand intervention or through use of the sostenuto pedal.
  3. To complicate everything most beautifully, Grimes' walking lines are equally angular, so that even when Bley is playing "in the chord"... it becomes masked.
Bley is not improvising with George Russellian "upper extensions" to the chords (although they might be analyzed as such); he seems to completely break free from the chord progression, following his own pan-tonic muse, superimposing two or three tonal areas before always returning home. Recall George Russell's River Boat diagram of tonality; we could place this style of Paul Bley somewhere in between John Coltrane's jet and Ornette Coleman's rocket to space: he expertly follows the form, but rather than following or expanding on the changes, he dances around them, only occasionally (and fleetingly) keeping to the parent scale for more than a few measures.

Rest in Peace, Paul. You've made the world a more confusing and wonderful place.

Download PDF (Concert pitch) UPDATED 9/23

So, in keeping with the ethos this blog has had from the very beginning... not to present objective descriptions of "what was played", but interpret what was done in the most rational way, and leaving the work open to peer review ... look this over yourselves and leave your comments below.

I can make Bb and Eb versions if there's any interest, just leave a comment.