The defining characteristic of any given jazz musician is frequently his sound. The more control a player has over the nature of that sound, the more likely he is to project a distinctive musical personality.
This 1987 date teams the iconoclastic pianist with guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer Paul Motian, and British saxophonist John Surman. While it's easy to argue that, with Manfred Eicher's icy, crystalline production, this was a stock date for both the artists and the label, that argument would be flat wrong. Bley was looking for a new lyricism in his own playing and in his compositions. He was coming from a different place than the large harmonies offered by augmented and suspended chords and writing for piano trios. The other band members – two other extremely lyrical improvisers in Surman and Frisell.
Drummer Jack DeJohnette, now four releases down the road with his Golden Beams label, turns to the archives for this historic live set with Bill Frisell. The guitarist first heard DeJohnette's music as a teenager in the '60s, though it took some time before they would first perform together on Don Byron's Romance with the Unseen (Blue Note, 1999). They embrace a shared musical vision with one ear to the ground, digging the groove, and the other wide open to the possibilities of spontaneous invention in the moment.
This relatively early set from Bill Frisell is a fine showcase for the utterly unique guitarist. Frisell has the ability to play nearly any extroverted style of music and his humor (check out the date's "Music I Heard") is rarely far below the surface. This particular quintet (with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, tuba player Bob Stewart, electric bassist Jerome Harris and drummer Paul Motian) is not exactly short of original personalities and their outing (featuring seven Frisell compositions) is one of the most lively of all the ones in the ECM catalog.
This record is truly detached from the structured cool of early Konitz albums like Subconscious-Lee (Prestige, 1950), with their formal, if still-swinging approach to melody and improvisation. Konitz's playing is soulful and spare, seemingly embracing Louis Armstrong's admission that in his old age he'd learned which notes to leave out. His blowing loosely slurs through his runs like flowing water.