Review by Brad Walseth
As one of the artists who first brought the ECM label to the attention of the jazz world in the '60s and '70s, pianist/composer Paul Bley returns with a follow-up to his beloved solo piano recording Open, To Love that, along with Keith Jarrett's Facing You went on to influence an entire generation of pianists. On Open, To Love, Bley explored slow, resonant tones that were influenced by his work with electronic synthesizers. On his new work, Solo in Mondsee, the 75-year-old musician plays a gorgeous sounding Bosendorfer Imperial Grand piano in Mondsee, Austria, and creates works that emerge displaying elements of standards, impressionistic improvisation, blues and boogie-woogie. In short, these are compositions that could only have come from the mind and creativity of a master improvisor.
Ten compositions, simply titled Mondee Variations I - X, reveal their myriad surprises through repeated listening. Fans of solo piano should delight in trying to pick up the various fragments that Bley strings through these pieces. Just when you think you know what he is going to do next, he is guaranteed to startle you with a sudden shift into another dimension of his creative mind. To hear this recording next to something like Delmark's recent release of Jimmy Blythe's pianola rolls from the 1920s is akin to hearing the history of Jazz condensed into a palpable movement, where the improvisational urge to create eventually breaks free entirely from song form constraints and into the clear air of freedom.