Paul Bley says the subject of his new album is time. I take him at his word. On About Time the 75-year-old jazz pianist offers two solo improvisations: the 33-minute title track followed by a 10-minute “encore.” When we think of time in music, it’s the meter and not the length that matters. Music marks time. It divides it. Creates a beat. A beat, though, rarely appears on About Time as the basic structures that give music form—themes, heads, verses—are cast aside for a composition that drifts from one moment to the next. Melodies never return. A chord sequence plays only once.
How is About Time about time? Is Bley suggesting that musical time is a lie? Does music’s ability to capture time and make a moment (a meter, a chorus, a five-minute song) return exactly as it was before disguise how time actually works? About Time’s half-hour track flows by almost bereft of landmarks. Long songs are not unusual in jazz, but they normally just stretch the same structure used by a 3-minute pop tune. About Time captures how time passes in life, where a year, a month, a day will never match the one before or the one that follows. It demands your complete attention, but it fully rewards that effort.