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Album Review

A critic's blood might curdle at the sight of an album title such as Virtuosi, especially given the knowledge that it is a musician-run label, so the musician in charge must have picked that title out himself. It is some solace that at least these musicians, one of Paul Bley's best trios, weren't referring to themselves as virtuosi at the time this session was recorded. This would have been a warning to look out for pomposity, but that's the last way this 1967 should be described. It comes from the period prior to Bley's electronics binge, but well into a period of slavish devotion to the compositions of Annette Peacock, two of which are given extended readings here. The performances, each longer than 15 minutes, include bass solos by Gary Peacock in which drummer Barry Altschul creates a kind of musical grout. It is not meant to be a messy description of a process in which the two musicians play with such sympathy that a kind of elaborate mosaic is created, but one that seems like it is being viewed from a great distance, through a fog. Bley, maybe smoking a pipe while all that is going on, eventually will re-enter, habitually packing some kind of fantastic melody hidden up his sleeve. The bassist continues to function as a lead instrument whenever he wants, the music seeming to require no steady bottom — other than civilization itself. Listeners could easily have two minds about all this, finding it either endlessly fascinating if the time is there to focus on every detail, or a kind of irrelevant background patter whose components could be reordered endlessly without any change in meaning. The session sat in the can for nearly a decade before Bley got it out on his Improvising Artists roster.


Born: January 6, 1943 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

In the early '70s, Barry Altschul was the drummer for Circle -- a band that (with a membership that also included Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Anthony Braxton) might possibly have been the most technically adept free jazz ensemble ever. Altschul's drumming with that band was stylistically all-encompassing -- in his own words, "from ragtime to no time" -- thanks to his background in traditional jazz styles, which gave him a solid grounding on which to build his free playing. From his days with Circle...
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