A regular feature of my local alternative weekly is a column called “Treasure Island Picks.” The contents of this column are predictable enough. Touring acts are asked to pick their five favorite albums—favorites not just of the moment, but transcendental faves that one could stand to listen to again and again. The function of this kind of article is to allow artists to showcase their musical savvy. And so the choices are also predictable enough: something suitably obscure, to guarantee that one is seen as a serious audiophile; a mainstream pop album that is re-evaluated as more important or significant than first thought (e.g.: The Beatles, Please Please Me: “Four guys, 13 hours, 14 tracks. Do the math”); and a jazz album to show that your CD platter sees more than just rawk albums.
For 17 weeks running, the jazz album of choice for local crooners like Hawksley Workman, incendiary guitar gods like Danto Jones and hip-hop artistes like Choclair, has been Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. It’s an album that has to be given its due. This is cool jazz distilled down to its chilled martini essence: music for those still summer evenings on which one willingly invites melancholic introspection. Coltrane! Evans! Adderly!: a perfect line-up playing perfectly. Kind of Blue is spacious, plaintive, mid-tempo and, well-hate to say it—but pretty unobtrusive. For the masses, this album has become all but definitive of jazz itself. When people think “jazz” they think of saxophones, trumpets and the cool sound popularized by Miles in the late 1940s and ‘50s. Which is a shame, since jazz continues to develop in interesting and provocative ways. It’s an old complaint that I’m articulating here, but it’s worth repeating. We should feel privileged to be living at a moment when so much excellent jazz music is being produced. Alas, the Grammys go to David Sanborn, Diana Krall et al. (even Santana got a jazz Grammy!) and the public gets little exposure to the new sounds of jazz.
Not Two, Not One is exemplary of some the fabulous music being put out today. Paul Bley (piano), Gary Peacock (double-bass) and Paul Motian (drums) are all in their sixties and each has a sizable catalog of solo and group performances. They are rightly recognized as amongst the finest jazz musicians working today. While Peacock and Motian have each worked independently with Bley in the past (Bley, Motian and Charlie Haden recording the exquisite Memoirs in 1992, while Bley and Peacock worked as a duo on 1998’s equally impressive Mindset), this is the first time that all three of them have worked together since 1963.
Not Two, Not One is experimental, innovative and most surprisingly, accessible. Balancing Bley’s introspective, atonal musings on “Now,” and Peacock’s moving, expressive bass-work on “Entelechy”—as fine a bass-track as one is liable to find anywhere—are tracks like the bluesy “Fig Foot” and the ballad “Noosphere.” On “Fig Foot,” Peacock’s driving bass lines and Motian’s energetic, shimmering creativity on the drums gives Bley the space to pursue a line of inspired melodic improvisation. “Noosphere” starts out in a Bill Evans vein, sweet and sparkling, but works it way towards original solo interventions within the general outlines of the jazz ballad. While the album is characterized by true group work, with all of the members of the trio seeming to disdain the solo spotlight, I’m nevertheless most impressed with the work of Gary Peacock. Both the rapturous, haunting “Entelechy” and the more difficult, serious “Intente” are likely to stay with me for a long time.
In his review of Not Two, Not One in Downbeat, Will Smith suggested that “one would not be too far afield to suggest that the direction offered by this trio might be a model for jazz’s future—it looks ahead while never ignoring the greatest of the past.” I couldn’t agree more. A superb, essential recording, and a perfect album to help bridge the gap between Kind of Blue and right now.