Having worked early on with everyone from Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus to Chet Baker and Jimmy Giuffre, Canadian pianist Paul Bley created a solid jazz base for his own distinctly sparse and plaintive style. In the '60s he gravitated toward free jazz, but with less of the freneticism of a Cecil Taylor and more as a melancholic minimalist who would leave his mark on such introverted tinklers as Keith Jarrett. Since the dawn of the '70s, Bley has elaborated on his brand of chamber jazz via a slew of independent jazz labels, including Steeplechase, Soul Note, Owl, and hatART. But it's on the German ECM label where he has scored some of his most impressive triumphs; this 1986 session ranks high among his many solo and group outings for the label. Nicely assisted by '60s cohort and drummer Paul Motian, guitarist Bill Frisell, and saxophonist John Surman, Bley ranges wide, from his own diffusely meditative opener ("Memories") and two wintry ballads by Carla Bley ("Seven" and "Closer") to a noisy workout by Surman ("Line Down") and a mercurial swinger from Motian ("Once Around the Park"). Adding to the wealth of quality material here are cuts by Frisell and Annette Peacock. Overcast and a bit icy as one might expect, but nevertheless Bley's Fragments makes for a consistently provocative and enjoyable listen.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook