|The thing about Canadian pianist Paul Bley is rarely do people 'get' the full gist of what hes doing. Some think hes paying homage to pianos improvisers, while others take him for an off-the-wall character whose playing is too quirky for the mainstream. True enough, his style is somewhat demanding but its not the sort of thing that one has to think too deeply about when listening to his music. When it hits you, you realize, the man has got that certain 'thing' that cant quite be traced through space or time. Some trace it back to Cecil Taylor (though Bley began to play free around the same time as Cecil), while others will argue Schoenberg and Webern inform his playing. Whatever the case, the reissue of this CD is certainly welcome to these ears.
12 (+6) In a Row is a split solo, duo, and trio disc. There are eight solo pieces, seven trio pieces and three duo pieces, involving various combinations of reedmen Hans Koch and Franz Koglmann. Out of all Bleys records Ive heard, this one is especially wistful. Its as if having these two partners gave him extra large wings to take off in flight. From moment to moment, he comes up with extra-sensory solos and motifs that take charge on their own. When Koch and Koglmann enter the picture, they negotiate much common ground, though even that often changes, as each party tends to convert the other to their own way of playing things. In a trio setting, interplay between Kochs clarinet and Koglmanns flugelhorn is the richest ingredient. Listen as the two spiral their way around Bleys imaginative dance-like steps and wonder in awe. Eighteen years after its initial release, this is still an inspiring and mind-boggling record, one that showcases the pianist during one of his many creative peaks.
Tom Sekowski April 2008