Album of the Week: Paul Bley’s Open, to Love (1973)

So check this out right… sometimes all you need is a piano. From Debussy to Monk to Ethiopia’s Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, there are lots of artists in different styles who made incredible albums out of solely playing the piano. This one from Paul Bley, his third for German jazz giant ECM, is one of my favorites.

My man Paul got the assist from his ex-wife and brilliant artist in her own right Carla Bley, who wrote tracks 1, 2, and 6 on here. Opener “Closer” (heh) is a bit unsettling in its use of empty space, but it serves to make “Ida Lupino” that much more gratifying. This second track is almost jaunty in comparison, with a memorable melody that Bley rolls into with passion. “Started” also has a certain warmth to it.

What I really love about this album is the way that space is used. The compositions could certainly be played a lot faster, but Bley interprets them with a patience that alternately suggests contemplation, serenity, and occasionally something darker. These qualities are all present on the long title track (credited to Annette Peacock), after which Paul Bley’s “Harlem” enters with a bluesy familiarity, not unlike the aforementioned effect of the second track after the first.

The last two tracks are romantic at turns, with an air of mystery. I think Ms. Peacock wins the outré award here for the eerie, airy “Nothing Ever Was, Anyway”, which is nonetheless a beautiful way to close things out. Dig it.

Open to love? Stream it here.

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