In the past, I have often found Paul Bley's solo piano playing to be too desultory for my tastes. On Touché, however, the addition of another instrumentalist — and a keenly focused one in fellow Canadian, trumpeter/flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler — has forced Bley to attend more fully to matters at hand.
The album consists of impromptu duets, with brief solo interludes bridging the pieces. Because both Wheeler and Bley are veterans of spontaneous improvisation with decades of deep listening experience from which they can draw, they are able to initiate and respond to musical suggestions without resorting to gratuitous showboating or the simple aping of the other's lines (this last tendency being a glaring weakness in most “free” players.) To my ears, the most effective example of their telepathy is on “Prequel.” Here Wheeler and Bley play as one, move outwards discursively, and then rejoin. It is spontaneous improvisation performed at a very sophisticated level.
Touché is for the most part contemplative — a discussion rather than an excursion. It eschews propulsion in favor of a moment-to-moment dialogue. Wheeler plays melodically and with great thought. Bley is more whimsical and perhaps more given to risk-taking. They meet easily at some common point of language on this beautifully recorded album.