P A U L B L E Y
De Morgen, Brussels
2 April 2004
"Elegance & Brutality
of a Sly Fox"
by Didier Wijnants
What a sly fox, this Paul Bley! After performing one piece in the elegant
hall of Chateau Vilain XIIII in Leut (Maasmechelen) he just stood up, turned
around and left the stage… After about 10 minutes he came back and produced
an impressive solo concert, full of elegance and backhanded tricks. This
72 year old Canadian piano player hasn’t changed.
The real connoisseurs of Bley (who constituted about half of the audience)
understood almost immediately what it was all about: his sudden departure
from stage had to do with the phone directories which he normally puts on
the piano chair. These telephone directories are the old attention-grabbing
trick of Bley, but it’s not just that – they also have a function: this way
he could sit higher at the piano and it is easier for him to “attack” the
piano from above. It sounds a bit aggressive, but it certainly is a part
of his temperament.
Paul Bley is often called lyrical, but in reality he has a much more varied
musical personality. He knows how to reconcile elegance and brutality in
one single chord. His playing is often paradoxical, and it seldom feels too
comfortable. The classical remark about Bley goes that he is the only great
piano player who can make a grand piano sound like an upright. Well, the
audience noticed this last Thursday in Maasmechelen. Under his hands even
the best tuned instrument can sometimes sound like a piece of junk. But the
thing is that it is not a matter of sloppiness, it is a thought-through strategy
to bring to life unexpected consonances and sounds. He uses the same
disrespectful strategy when he performs jazz standards. “Night & Day”,
one of the softest tunes ever made becomes, in his interpretation, quite
restless and grim. The opposite is also possible: a sharp Charlie Parker
theme, as if by magic, starts to sound elegant.
In the last years quite a few wonder boys have appeared on the jazz scene
and they are trying to use the same methods.... With all due respect
to their talent and skill, I have to admit that their musical tactics sound
more like child play in comparison with a concert of Paul Bley.
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