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Strands of history are woven into the beguiling tapestry of When Will the Blues Leave, a luminous artifact that’s been released 20 years after its live recording in Lugano in 1999. A posthumous gem for pianist Paul Bley and drummer Paul Motian, it’s only the third official release by their inspired trio with bassist Gary Peacock, harking back to their early ’60s collaborations. The trio also reunited for 1998’s ECM album Not Two, Not One. Touring behind that album, the threesome was captured at a theater in Switzerland on this current release.
The trio’s loose, vibrant take on Ornette Coleman’s classic title track references Bley’s seminal contact with Coleman in 1950s Los Angeles, before Coleman’s meteoric rise as a jazz titan. An expansive, venturesome read of the theme to Bley’s “Mazatlan” wends its way through Bley’s lyrical “Flame” and “Longer” and his blues-tinged solo performance of “Told You So.”
But the album’s main attraction is the collective, “not two, not one” identity. Propelled by Motian’s distinctively elastic yet always swing-inflected time sense, the trio organically loosens grooves without losing them. It’s a rare and delicate balance, achievable with the right trio chemistry, as exemplified, for instance, in Peacock’s “Moor,” which unravels beautifully in its final passage. In another jazz-historical depth charge, Bley slyly quotes “Ornithology” (he also crossed musical paths with Charlie Parker) in “Dialogue Amour.”
The longtime associates’ fast and quixotic version of “When Will the Blues Leave,” the set’s penultimate track, features bass and drums solos that set the stage for a wily, unaccompanied Bley solo that sidles back into a truncated head. A salty-sweet solo piano variation on “I Loves You, Porgy” serves as a graceful epilogue, sprinkled with one final inside-the-piano string sweep for good measure.
This important recording fills a gap, inviting speculation as to what more might have come from these like-minded bandmates.— Josef Woodard
Featured photo by W. Patrick Hinley.