Paul Bley

Improvisie

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Recorded in 1971 for the French America Recording label, Improvisie captures pianist Paul Bley, Annette Peacock, and master percussionist Han Bennink in concert in Rotterdam. Bley plays electric piano and synthesizer here, with Peacock playing both electric and acoustic piano, synthesizer, and electric bass as well as singing. There are two pieces on the set, the elegiac title cut, which is nearly 14 minutes in length, and the much more adventurous "Touching," which is nearly 24. On "Improvisie," elements of jazz phrasing and harmony usher in the piece haltingly, purposefully, almost reverently. A melody asserts itself from the ether, decorated by Bennink's hushed use of multiple percussion instruments and Peacock's accents on the theme itself. Tones and harmonic fragments whisper their way into the mix, governed by a crystalline use of spatial dynamics. Even as Bennink ups the ante with his instruments, Bley and Peacock dance very slowly through their interaction. It isn't until the six-and-a-half-minute mark where things begin to get atonal and angular, but even here, space is the key to expression. The unhurried procession of tones and colors makes the piece, no matter how strange and ethereal it gets, feel purposeful and accessible in its exploration. "Touching" begins on the fringes as electronic sounds mash up against one another and Bennink decorates the blips and gratings with the organic rhythmic material that keeps it all on the ground. The intensity with which the work begins is off-putting at first, but quickly opens up and out into a more relaxed and perhaps even inviting manner. Peacock's block chords add weight to Bennink's light percussion and Bley goes to elongated, deeply held tones on his synthesizer, single notes as opposed to dense washes of sound. Peacock is clearly the force behind "Touching"; it is her pace, her piano lines, and her sense of time that unwind it from its elementals. When she begins to sing about six minutes in, the work becomes something else entirely: a new song form, or a new framework for it. Her poetic lyric illustrates the music rather than vice versa; whether she is crooning, droning, or emoting powerfully at the margins of her voice, the sheer musicality and ghostly richness in her approach are captivating and beguiling. Bley's filling the spaces between her verses ranges from lilting melodic interplay to harsher, grinding tones that respond to Bennink's manic yet taut and gentle percussive dance. The industrial sounds that begin to assert themselves about halfway through never quite overpower the musicality inherent in the piece's foundation. Even 35 years later, "Touching" is still a brave and uncompromising work, one that asks as many questions as it answers, and one that renews its freshness with each repeated listening.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 13:55
2
23:43 Spotify
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