Postscript January 6, 2016: "Paul Bley, a jazz pianist whose thoughtful but intuitive commitment to advanced improvisation became widely influential, died of natural causes Sunday. He was 83."
What I hear in jazz takes on Persia, aka Iran, is like Montesquieu's Persian Letters in reverse. If Persian Letters was composed of letters exchanged between two imaginary Persian noblemen traveling in Europe, jazz pieces about Persia are like composers' and musicians' mind journeys in Persia. As Montesquieu would say, you might find in jazz compositions about Iran "a sort of romance, without having expected it."
In the Jazz Mirrors Iran series, several different musicians and pieces introduced and they were all connected together by a sort of a chain. The chain was Persia, a dream land where even the traffic can be (pictured) as harmonious. (see Gulda)
Back to Montesquieu's concept of an imaginary encounter between east (Iran) and west (Europe), the author talks about how the travelers (in this case, musicians) were struck with the marvellous and extraordinary, each in his own style. "Reasoning cannot be intermixed with the story," remarks Montesquieu, "because the personages not being brought together to reason." Therefore, Fats Waller's Persian Rug or Lloyd Miller's Pari Ruu are always "connected with a manifestation of surprise, or astonishment, and not with the idea of inquiry, much less with that of criticism." That is the Iran I hear and see in jazz.
|A Persian village in the west of Iran|
***The man who recorded the Persian Village for producer Gene Norman was only 24, and after Oscar Peterson, the best pianist ever emerged from Canada. Paul Bley, a top pianist associated with the West Coast jazz, free jazz and some other labels is actually a musician difficult to label, as his style and collaborations echo much more than a couple of trends. The man in question, before reaching his 30s, had played and occasionally recorded with Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins, from swing era masters to post-bop rebels.
The Persian Village was one of the nine songs Bley recorded in 1957 and by doing so it seemed as if the young Bley wanted to manifest a departure from the mainstream or at least the mainstream idea of Modern. Long before orientalism becomes a fad, Bley showed some of his eastern sensitivity by sitting barefoot on the ground and contemplating a book which became the cover picture of the album aptly named Solemn Meditation. [see the first picture]
Bley's then wife, Carla Borg, talks about the "possibilities of improvising harmonically as well as melodically" in here and the Persian Village "based on simple form and unelaborate chord changes" which can provide "a solid foundation on which to build." The piece was composed by Dave Pike, a young modernist whose early albums showed the same integrity and brilliance as Bley's.
Aside from Bley on piano, the composer Pike plays vibes and a young Charlie Haden is on bass. Lenny McBrowne's on drums.
Today, Bley turned 81, so happy birthdays to him.