Paul Bley – Paul Bley & Scorpio LP

Paul Bley-Scorpio

And so! Pianist & rollicking bohemian cool-dude Paul Bley drags in the super duo qualities of bassist Dave Holland & drummer/percussionist Barry Altschul to form the Scorpio trio, sliding around the deck in the Avant improvisational district over premeditated skeletons arranged by knock-out Carla Bley & Annette Peacock. Now, to seriously add the rainbow-fluid, magic-dust, cosmic-bollocks to an already exciting proposition – Bley is playing a plump expanse of synthesisers, electric keyboards & what’s either a killer moog or a synthesizer modal that’s damn close to one! Like a bad sweet-tooth, I have a real pash on mad moogs & the idea of them in an unbridled orbit backed up by Holland & Altschul is pretty goose-bump dappling.

The bad news first… half the album (four of the seven tracks) is wet as hell! Bland, damp & frankly quite uncoordinated (not in a good way) with some really lachrymose fondling that’s also meagre & majorly irresolute. For me, that side is a total write off.

As for the good news – the more animated/eventful & efficacious tracks are both excellent & cult. The first spike in the wheel emerges with Carla Bley’s famous King Korn. I came to this version of the song after the shredding, crank-speed belaboured take on the same title from Barry Altschul’s phenomenal You Can’t Name Your Own Tune LP that was issued in 1977 (five years after Scorpio which was done in 72). That’s no easy feat ta’ beat, but suffice to say, the Scorpio take has some excellent kinetics & sonic psychedelia, particularly from Bley’s insane Arp synthesizer which he pulls some wonderfully florid gloop from.

But where for me the album really luminates is on side-B’s Syndrome. This superb 7.55 minute medley is where Bley ladles on the most theatric shenanigans & coaxes & collates some of the coolest cook from the synthesisers whilst Altschul & Holland abstract & swing as they do so well & with so much ease. Such great stuff.

We then fall foul of the 9.45 minute Gesture Without Plot… a sprawling hesitancy in whatever?!

Lastly comes a really nice short number – Ictus (really wish this could have gone on for 9.45 instead) that panders more to the sporadic call & response phraseology. Choca’ with loads of great sounds & expressive bursts from Bley & the boys, it is tragic that it’s over in only 4.05 minutes when it so’ so clearly could of continued unfurling & frolicking for much longer.

Despite over half of this LP for me being a dud, I still think it’s a stand out recording due to the strength & individualism of the better tracks, even if that’s only really limited to just the two. This is wonderful territory to be messing with & will I think really appeal to folks that dig Hancock’s cult early Sextant albums along with Richard Teitelbaum & Elliot Schwartz’s early Synth/Noise/Electronics experimentations & obviously Moog & early 70’s synth enthusiasts. It was a great project, but I think only ever produced one other very hard to get recording (which I don’t actually have yet). Dave & Barry also joined Bley for a Live In Japan album on the great Improvising Artists label (run by Bley) but I found this LP way’ way too straight personally. Did Scorpio do any more wild recordings? I would love to hear more in this terrain from this lot. Even the sleeve is cult! Bley in a giant Guy Faux hat blazing a pipe looking super stoned. Well worth tracking down.

Rekd – 1972

Label – Milestone Records