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Album Review

In 1957, 24-year-old Canadian-born pianist Paul Bley was quite an adept bebop player while also adopting the cerebral and cool California style that would identify and propel Dave Brubeck to stardom. The title Solemn Meditation is a bit misleading in that there's little chamber-styled jazz here, but these Hollywood sessions for the GNP Crescendo label do signify Bley's progressive modus operandi as being both for and ahead of the times. This CD contains the recording Solemn Meditation with an outstanding combo of young vibraphonist Dave Pike, a new bassist on the scene named Charlie Haden, and a talented drummer in Lenny McBrowne, who would become a staple on the mainstream and soul-jazz front. Of the interpretations, Dizzy Gillespie's "Birk Works" is a loose version featuring some jungle drumming, "Porgy" sounds calculated yet is rendered bluesy, and the lesser-known Bill Harris song "Everywhere" is a discriminating ballad with Pike's vibes shimmering with every phrase. Carla Borg (before marrying Paul Bley) penned "O Plus One," a darkly hued, introspective piece, while Paul Bley contributes the bouncy McBrowne feature "Drum Two" and the witty "Beau Didley," a tongue-in-cheek blues. Pike's "Persian Village" has the stamp of early world music in its relaxed swing and palpable interplay. This CD also contains the long out of print Gene Norman production on the Whippet label, The Jazz Couriers, an LP featuring Pike and pianist Eugene Russell in a quartet setting. This recording more fully lives up to the "Solemn Meditation" tag, sounding much like the Modern Jazz Quartet. Of the ten selections, Pike again delves into ethnic overtones during the facile Latin/Asian amalgams of "Polynesia" and a wonderful take on "I'll Remember April." The controlled California cool of "Lullaby of the Leaves" and "Pike's Peak" perfectly reflects the mood of the era, while the quaint "Triangle" and cute "Goody Speaks" display the muted chamber techniques welded onto inspired swing that were the domain of the MJQ. More riff-oriented, "For the Love of Pike" cuts the rhythm team of bassist John Goodman and drummer Reed Vaughan loose a bit, while the Sonny Rollins number "Valse Hot" is turned down considerably in a polite reading. These sessions with the Jazz Couriers precede Pike's work with Paul Bley by about nine months, both recordings giving the listener an opportunity to hear the vibraphonist in a developmental stage. Not even out of his teens after having left his native Detroit for the West Coast, Dave Pike is heard in his salad days as an already mature performer, though still standing in the shadows of fellow Motowner Milt Jackson. This valuable document for Pike primarily and Bley secondarily will bring great, long-lasting, and repeated pleasurable listenings of solid modern jazz that moves away from conventional wisdom while also sticking with solidly proven tradition. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi

Solemn Meditation, The Paul Bley Quartet
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