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JAZZ REVIEW

Bley and Haden Shift Rhythms, Emotions

September 06, 1997|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The piano's orchestral capabilities, as well as its potential for deep, personal expression, were the focus of the first night of pianist Paul Bley's duo appearance with bassist Charlie Haden at the Jazz Bakery Thursday. Working in front of a black backdrop that sometimes matched the music's mood, Bley explored harmonic frontiers while giving revealing glimpses into the workings of his mind.

Bley and Haden's relationship dates back to 1958 when the two played Los Angeles' Hillcrest Club as part of the fledgling Ornette Coleman ensemble. That juncture was central to Thursday's performance, as the two chose a number of Coleman songs to serve as improvisational vehicles.

But the actual pieces, which went unannounced from the stage, were of little matter. Themes were sounded briefly and served only as springboards to an ever-changing array of feelings and rhythms totally disconnected from their beginnings. The only constants were the ongoing depth of sometimes strange, frequently beautiful harmonies the pianist employed and his intent to take listeners deep into improvisational adventures.

Bley moved from lush, romantic passages worthy of Rachmaninov into clipped series of chords balanced tipsily on intoxicating rhythms. Just as suddenly, the music would make smooth blues turns and advance into lyrically warm passages. Occasionally, he would reach into the box of the instrument to dampen tones with his palm or to pluck the strings with brittle sharpness.

Frequently, the rhythms of jazz disappeared all together as Bley suggested the astringent cadence and harmonies of Bela Bartok or the celestial romance of French composer Gabriel Faure. Indeed, the pace of the music became so extraordinarily bizarre at one point that a member of the audience, during a particularly quiet section, was heard to mutter, ". . . sounds like John Cage."

Haden, one of the few bassists open-minded and plain-spoken enough to stand up to Bley's free-fall approach, often left long, empty spaces for his partner to fill. The two intertwined involved statements during Coleman's "Ramblin'," before swirling off into revealing, stream-of-consciousness solos. The warm, Caribbean theme of Coleman's "Latin Genetics" served as a contrasting touchstone for some of Bley's most aggressive exposition.

*

Paul Bley and Charlie Haden play the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City, tonight, 8:30 and 10, and Sunday, 6 and 8 p.m. Early shows $20, late shows $18. (310) 271-9039.

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