When Oscar Peterson moved from Montreal to New York in 1949, the 17-year-old Bley took over his residency at the Alberta Lounge on Oscar's recommendation; in his twenties, he played with Charlie Parker. Bley started incorporating maverick pianist Lennie Tristano's approach to improvisation and collaborating with Charles Mingus, and in 1958 in Los Angeles Bley famously put together a band with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins. His move into free improvisation in the groundbreaking Jimmy Giuffre 3 brought him acclaim. After moving to New York, he was one of the performers at the Cellar Cafe in Bill Dixon's "October Revolution in Jazz" four-day festival, which led to Bley being one of the co-founders shortly thereafter of the Jazz Composers Guild. It was in the midst of that fabled month that Bley recorded his first LP for ESP-Disk' (sixth overall to that point), Barrage.
Bley returned to the studio for his second ESP-Disk' LP a bit less than two months later. Closer finds Bley again heavily featuring then-wife Carla's compositions; she's credited on seven of the ten tracks, including two also heard on Barrage, "Batterie" and "And Now the Queen." They sound quite different on this quieter trio date, and the performances are more concise (no track breaks the 3:30 mark). Paul included one of his own tunes, "Figfoot," as well as Ornette Coleman's "Crossroads" and future wife Annette Peacock's "Cartoon." Closer features the distinctive pianism we've come to associate with Bley in one of its earliest recorded manifestations. The other players are fellow Jimmy Giuffre 3 member Swallow and, in his recording debut, Altschul.
Paul Bley: piano
Barry Altschul: percussion
Steve Swallow: bass
released January 1, 1966
Recorded NYC, December 12, 1965. Produced by Paul Bley at RLA Studios in New York City. Engineered by Richard L. Alderson. Original art direction by Jay Dillon. Digital remastering by Michael D. Anderson.
"...a wonderful, poetic anomaly. In an era where velocity and raw story-telling were required currency, Closer had a lyrical, Haiku-like simplicity — recalling the Japanese poet Basho’s line 'something like a hidden glimmering.' […] In Bley’s hands the freedom of jazz manifests itself in the negotiating of borders and edges, between skittering, conversational interplay, serene space and the heart-strained melodic intimacy on the part of his band mates " – Matt Fleeger, The New Thing, KMHD-FM
"The interplay between these three is startling in how tightly woven they are melodically and harmonically." - Thom Jurek, All Music Guide
"In the final analysis, however, it is his vision that propels the music forward. He fills it with vigor and dynamism, with space and lyricism; nothing is out of focus, every challenge is within his grasp. His eloquence is shaped by his ability to balance silence with sound, as well as his penchant for, and skill with, unusual phrasing." - Jerry D'Souza, All About Jazz