Paul Bley's elongated career has seen him careening across the Western musical horizon in so many settings, it's almost impossible to categorize them all. This 1990 date, recorded over two days, features Bley in one of his most playful settings. With collaborators Franz Koglmann and Hans Koch, Bley places himself in three distinct settings to explore, of all things the atonality proposed by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern early in the 20th century. However, this is hardly a "classical" recording. It comes out of the jazz idiom that so firmly roots Bley; rhythmic intent is inherent in every one of these proceedings. Perhaps this is most evident on the eight solo pieces, which are merely numbered to distinguish them from the duos and trios. On the first, moving out from Monk and Lennie Tristano, Bley feels his way through one of Webern's tone rows in syncopation, swinging it through the middle with a lengthy quote from Albert Ammons. In the fourth trio, free improvisation comes from a serialist tone row and moves through all 12 tones before undoing itself in contrapuntal elegance and modal intervals based upon Scriabin's tone poems. Koglmann's duel with Koch is refreshingly funny here, a cat and mouse game in flats and sharps. In all, this is one of Bley's most curious and intimate works, where his own musical mind is given problems -- presented by serialism and its own undoing -- and his ways of resolving them or casting them out of his vocabulary. Brilliant.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek