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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 15, No. 10 July 2010

Book notes + Blue notes

by Marc Chénard / July 1, 2010

Flash version here.

Paul Bley: The Logic of Chance
Arrigo Cappalletti (translated from the Italian by Gregory Burk).
Véhicule Press, Montreal, 2010. 143 pages + bibliography, discography and index.
ISBN 978-1-5506-252-9

Few musicians have been more cunning and astute in creating their public image than Paul Bley. A native Montrealer who left town by the time he was 20, he worked with many of the greats in the United States while hobnobbing with most of music’s radical innovators of the 1960s. A little over a decade ago, his biography was published (Stopping Time, Véhicule Press, 1999), also issued by the publisher of this new book, which first came out in Italy in 2004. The author, like the translator, are both Paul Bley ‘students’ (if such a thing is possible, given his decidedly anti-academic stance and definite elusiveness in talking about musical matters). This work, in contrast to the biography, is an attempt to critically assess Bley’s considerable output, as it skims rapidly over his life to focus on various facets of his work, including discussions about his early collaborations, trios, duo encounters, etc. In a pointed formula, Cappalletti characterizes his mentor as “… eccentric, individualistic, and a little snobbish.” (p. 79) While being an admirer, the author remains critical, examining several of his recordings attentively, pointing both qualities and occasional flaws. Also worth noting are the discussion of five pieces, all penned by his former partner Carla, two of which became staples of his repertoire plus an e-mail interview with the pianist and, lastly, two sections dealing with the poetics of Bley’s music. To some degree, this book succeeds in piercing through the veil of the pianist’s mystery, yet the conundrum of contradictions that he is remains intact. At once a true original (who influenced many, most notably Keith Jarrett), our local son, now 77, has always been at the vanguard of jazz, though much of his playing is so steeped in the tradition that it almost seems at odds with his own stance. Whatever the case may be, this book delves into the Bley mystique without ever stripping it down completely; no one could ever do that for Bley has worked hard to make it as impenetrable as possible.

(c) La Scena Musicale