Monday, January 11, 2016

Bley & Bowie

There are plenty of appreciations of Paul Bley floating around the internet since his passing on January - you read Peter Hum's column by clicking here and Ben Ratliff's application in the New York Times here. I bought my first Bley LP in the early 1970s, an electric date titled "Paul Bley & Scorpio" issued on Fantasy (the leader looking quite stoned on the cover).  I then discovered his work for ECM, moved backwards to his earlier music and followed along as the decades progressed.  Over his career (which spanned 6+ decades (!), Bley worked with Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Giuffre, Albert Ayler, Charlie Haden and Gary Peacock.  He married Carla Bley and, even though they divorced after several years (in the 1960s), he continued to play her music throughout his career. Later in that decade, he married composer-keyboard artist Annette Peacock and, again, though the marriage was short-lived, the pianist play her music for much of his career.

Over the past decade, I discovered Paul Bley again through a series of solo piano CDs on the Canadian Justin Time label and on ECM.  The pianist claimed he rarely practiced or rehearsed but he would sit and play everyday.  In concert, his songs would stretch out, go in various directions, and rarely end up where they began.  He was creative and curmudgeonly, to the point, and highly creative Thankfully, he left a world of music behind with much to chew on about creativity, emotion and technique intermingle.

Here's a clip from a 1973 documentary:

David Bowie came to popularity in the late 1960s as The Beatles were breaking down and the Rolling Stones were being busted on a regular basis.  Personally, my attention was being turned towards creative Black music and what I felt were more soulful recordings than what a fey rocker was producing ("Space Oddity").  His "glam-rock" phase did not appeal although I liked his more funky recordings such as "Fame" and "Let's Dance." But, it was not until his 2014 collaboration with the Maria Schneider Orchestra that I listened again.  (O, I am such a purist! I even missed his 1985 work with the Pat Metheny Group on "The Falcon and The Snowman" as well as the appearance of trumpeter Lester Bowie on "Black Tie White Noise" in 1993).  "Sue, (Or, In a Season of Crime)" did make quite an impression and led Bowie to work with Donny McCaslin, Jason Lindner, Mark Giuliana, Tim Lefevbre, and Ben Monder on his latest release "Blackstar" (or "★" ) - in the light of his passing made public earlier today, the darkness of the lyrics on the album make more sense.  According to his producer Tony Visconti, "He made "Blackstar" for us, his parting gift." Perhaps the best part of this recording is that it's not Bowie meets jazz or Bowie sings standards but an artist looking for new modes of expression.  The videos released so far are quite ominous, even scary, but the music buzzes with creativity and Bowie's voice is quite strong.

Paul Bley and David Bowie had long productive careers creating music that challenged listeners to follow them on their ever-changing musical paths.  Whether you liked their approach or not, both men were artists who kept pushing forward with or without the approval of the general public.

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