Solo in Mondsee
Paul Bley began his solo piano career with his 1972 ECM album, Open, To Love, a classic of the genre. Solo in Mondsee, his first solo album for ECM since then, is one of the best he’s ever made. And that’s saying something, considering the number of solo albums he’s recorded in the intervening decades.
Bley is a rarity among avant-garde players: an improviser who prizes lyricism and slow tempos as highly as he prizes the formal license of free jazz. Melody drives every one of the 10 “variations” on this disc, and it’s a thrill to hear how far he can develop the germ of an idea without breaking the continuity or logic of his improvisation.
“Variation I” is one continuously evolving melody, a remarkably sustained piece of spontaneous composition. “Variation IV” is a marvelous free association of stark motifs, lovely jazz harmonies, and snatches of melody that sound like they’re from a standard you can’t quite place. “Variation VI” shows a more unsettled and enigmatic side of his lyrical gift. It’s an improvisation in which every phrase ends up in a place forbidding and remote from where it started. In “Variation II,” a very close relative of Ornette Coleman’s “Latin Genetics,” the dark and light sides of his playing meet. Sunny, optimistic passages alternate with contrasting dour, dissonant sections over a gentle Latin-inflected rhythm.
One of Bley’s strengths has always been the compression and focus of his ideas – he says a lot with very little. Wrapped in spacious silences, his poetically condensed phrases and glowing notes register with astonishing emotional force. At 75, Bley has given us a quiet masterpiece.
- Ed Hazell