Paul Bley's sixty year career has been primarily one where he's worked with some of the biggest names in the vanguard of jazz in the quest for experimentation and many times he's marched to the beat of his own drummer. For a good part of that career, it was also about him playing to the brilliant but often quirky songs of his then-wife, Carla Bley.
Even given Bley's nonconformist reputation, there was no telling what was going to come out of a session recorded for Bernard Stollman's far, far left field label ESP-Disk. Armed with a half dozen new Carla Bley compositions and borrowing two of Sun Ra's horn players (Marshall Allen, alto sax, and Dewey Johnson, trumpet), Bley brought in Eddie Gomez (bass) and Milford Graves (percussion) and went about recording Barrage one October day in 1964.
With this strong lineup and his wife's compositions, Bley performed music that can best be described as Atlantic-period Ornette Coleman combined with the then-forming Jazz Composer's Guild. Not surprising, either, as the Bleys had connection with both: Paul had once led a band consisting of Coleman and his fellow revolutionaries just before they took the jazz world by storm, and Carla had become a major player in the Guild and the Jazz Composer's Orchestra that soon sprung from it.
The recording starts out in rambunctious fashion with "Batterie," with a horn-led theme that's theatrical in Carla Bley's trademark style. "Ictus" follows the same pattern, where Graves is all over his kit and Allen and Johnson are playing with an unquenchable fire.
"And Now The Queen" stands out in that's the only tune that doesn't race along at a frenetic pace. As the "ballad" of the lot it contains an actual melody, or melodic theme. Johnson does a good job finding his melancholy side and Johnson plays with much of the same phrasing he uses for the balls-out cuts, only slowed down. Bley's piano brims with creative ruminations totally devoid of cliche's.
"Around Again" picks up the pace again, and this time Bley gives himself more solo space, while Gomez is practically soloing right along with him. The five-way conversation going on within "Walking Woman" is nothing short of astonishing.