See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Inner ivories

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Pianist Paul Bley, a gray eminence of the jazz avant-garde who played with Ornette Coleman in the ’50s before going on to make his mark as an introspective alternative to Cecil Taylor in the ’60s, is approaching his 70th year with enviable amounts of grace and energy. His new solo album, Basics, is a world away from the play-and-pause, gloomy beauty of his landmark solo ECM side Open, To Love (1972), with only one brief cut, “Early Alben,” recalling his earlier floating, shards-of-sound style. Still impressionistic, he’s developed a more fluid approach, which makes listening to the unaccompanied instrument seem like less work than it used to be. His probing comes across as less portentous now, encased in a lyrical flow of playful sensuality.

He sounds bluesier these days too, whether digging up the soulful root of one of Monk’s signature puzzle boxes (“Monk’s Mood”) or weaving free-associative variations on a child’s nyah-nyah song (“I Told You So”). This is solo piano for people who aren’t necessarily enamored of the form, tartly romantic and easily postmodern, but with huge deposits of genuine feeling.

Meanwhile, Sankt Gerold is a follow-up album to the Bley/Parker/Phillips Time Will Tell, with the trio recorded live in a monastery in the Austrian mountains (how very ECM). The mode is chamberish free improvisation, the momentum being passed among the three close listeners with ease, and each stepping forward now and then to make a dominant statement.

Bley and bassist Phillips seem very much at home moving between the delicate and the fierce — and saxophonist Parker, when not unburdening himself of some Roscoe Mitchell-like outburst of circular repetition, comes across as an astute colorist à la ’60s Wayne Shorter. Musically, one can’t complain, but the pervasive mood of doomy abstraction, even when leavened by some melodic Bley, is a bit less nourishing than Basics’ basic beauty.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

More by Richard C. Walls

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 21, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit