After the groundbreaking Open to Love, issued in 1973, pianist Paul Bley further explored the deep reaches of improvisation with an expressionist brush and pointillistic technique. This 1977 set featured two compositions by Bley, including the 16-minute title track and a pair by George Gershwin and Prince Lawsha, respectively. The opening of Axis is all played inside the piano, setting up for three or four minutes the inner dialogue and symptomatic lyricism of what is to follow. For Bley and his darkly chorded epiphanies, this track is landmark, as it goes to the same harmonic edges Cecil Taylor chooses to often, but with a wholly different dynamic and methodology. In Bley listeners can hear quite plainly the Second Viennese School, as well as Bill Evans and even Fats Waller, all of them criss-crossing harmonic ideas and lyrical architectures in his iconic inner world and being translated sublimely to the listener as something highly idiosyncratic and original, but also warm and inviting. The three shorter tracks on side two do nothing to dispel this myth, but despite a stunning read of Gershwin's "Porgy," it is Bley's own "El Cordobes -- Don't Ever Leave Me" that takes the side with its raw, pleading emotionalism and insistent longing and grief that touches on everything from Schöenberg to Villa-Lobos to Jelly Roll Morton and Ornette Coleman in its articulation of those feelings. This is one of Bley's most painterly and moving solo dates.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek