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Appearing Nightly

Carla Bley And Her Remarkable! Big Band

Jazz - Released August 22, 2008 | Watt

As is made all but plain by the title, Appearing Nightly is a live outing recorded by Carla Bley's big band over two nights at New Morning in Paris in the summer of 2006. Of course we've heard Bley's large group in live settings many times over the years, but in this case it's been five years since we've heard them at all -- at least on a recording. Her last outing with a large ensemble was in 2003 for the pre-election year political album Looking for America. Bley's last couple of records were made with her Lost Chords group, all of whom are present here: tenor saxophonist and flutist Andy Sheppard, bassist Steve Swallow, and Billy Drummond on the trap kit. Other players include trumpeters Lew Soloff, Florian Esch, and Earl Gardner; trombonists Gary Valente, Richard Henry, and Gigi Grata; Wolfgang Puschnig, Christophe Panzani, and Julian Arguelles make up the saxophone section, with Karen Mantler holding down the organ chair. Most of these players have been with Bley for many years. The cover of the album also offers a solid clue as to what it sounds like: while it is no doubt a Bley record, meaning its compositions and arrangements are quite contemporary, and if it doesn't have the sound and feel of what it might have in the 1950s for an ensemble this size, it nonetheless echoes both. Furthermore, Bley's tunes go to some length to consciously draw these parallels by freely employing elements of well-known tunes from the great American songbook in both her compositions and in her solos. All of these tracks are filled with her requisite sophistication and humor, but standouts include "Appearing Nightly at the Black Orchid," a 25-minute long suite where Tin Pan Alley composers are paid clever homage in Bley's own solo, which quotes from "Someone to Watch Over Me" within the very framework of the composition. Other highlights include the fingerpopping swinger "Awful Coffee" with beautiful electric bass work by Swallow, and tough solos from Sheppard and Pusching. Bley's playful sense of elegance is also at work here, using many classic jazz tunes in her own piano break including a nice nod to Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man." Another standout is the slightly, but pleasantly schizophrenic "Greasy Gravy" with strong work by Sheppard in a chart that references Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton. All of Bley's compositions here are rooted in the rhythm section, where melodies are simple and time signatures vary slightly, but her horn charts take the stuns somewhere far beyond that humble aspiration. The big-band stomp of "Someone to Watch" (not the Gershwin tune) swings along a multi-linear framework, where knotty harmonics and counterpoint give way to brief but fiery solos by some of her bandmates -- check Soloff's trumpet break a minute or so in. Ultimately, this is a very enjoyable set, one that begs repeated playing and deeper listening to get all the referent points, at the very least. But the truth is that it is so enjoyable, you'll find yourself getting lost in the music so often you'll forget to check. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu

Carla Bley

Jazz - Released October 26, 2007 | Watt

Composer and pianist Carla Bley has been very consistent, if not exactly prolific, for most of her 40 years in jazz. When she and bassist/life partner Steve Swallow hired British saxophonist Andy Sheppard -- then one of his country's young lions as both a composer and as a reedman -- in 1989, they hired him on and he's been with the group ever since. The recorded evidence was heard on Sheppard's first appearance with Bley on the utterly beguiling Fleur Carnivore, and later on the fine trio recording Songs with Legs in 1995. Drummer Billy Drummond joined the unit as a permanent member in the early part of this century, and on 2004's Lost Chords debut, locked in with a unit that seemed to be evenly weighted all around. This quartet has been responsible for some astonishing gigs, and conceivably, Bley could record this group over and over. But she's a restless composer, whether writing for big band or smaller units. The silly but delightful story in the liner notes tells us that she'd been hearing the sound of a trumpet when writing, and found the perfect foil in the sounds coming from Sheppard's headphones. Closer to the truth is it was Sheppard who encouraged Bley to enlist Paolo Fresu for this recording. Simply put, after the great Enrico Rava there is no finer Italian trumpeter than Fresu, an intensely lyrical, warm-toned player who is capable of speedy bebop runs, to be sure (check his early sides for proof), but who favors a more lyrical approach to the music as many Italian jazzers do. Evidenced by Bley's compositions here, hiring Fresu for this outing was an inspired idea. The combination of Sheppard's big, raw-edged tenor with Fresu's rich and textured approach to both in-line exchange playing and as a soloist is perfect. The disc opens with the six-part "Banana Quintet." (It's obvious that Bley hasn't lost any of her dry ironic wit since her last outing.) It begins slowly on "One Banana," with Fresu's trumpet playing a six-note line, and is joined by the band repeating it with either extra or fewer notes from the same sequence to keep Bley's bars clean. They trade like this for three repetitions before the ballad unfolds with Fresu's solo, as lyrical and pastoral as a warm summer rain in the country. His long solo is followed by a gorgeous one by Swallow before the tune begins to wind down with Swallow coloring the lead line on his high strings in the high register. It's one of the most beautiful songs she has ever composed. The blues enters on "Two Banana," and the listener is treated to the utterly striking and beautiful contrast to this two-horn line. Sheppard solos first on tenor, as the band shuffles along and Bley colors his phrasing with elegant chords that nonetheless contain the hint of something darker in their force. Fresu picks up on the tail end of that solo with his own after twinning on long sustained notes, and he slides into the opposite chair, articulating something more graceful, but no less emotive. "Third Banana" reveals some of Bley's humor. Its odd phrasing, with Drummond punching in Sheppard's solo with accents, is belied by the sparseness of Bley's own comping, which certainly swings but is also highly idiosyncratic. "Four" is introduced by a bass and piano ostinato line that deeply resembles the Beatles' "I Want You/She's So Heavy." The coolest thing about the cut is the way Drummond comes on more forcefully as it unwinds. He's driving it whether it's from the bell of his cymbal, his snare, his oddly punctuated bass drum accents, or the entire kit, and that force begins to push the other players to meet him. Sheppard finally does, blowing right out of the blue with a deep dark blues line. It becomes apparent about two thirds of the way through that Bley is using that Beatles line verbatim, but it leads somewhere else before the tune empties itself out. There's a subtle yet groovy Latin vibe on "Five Banana" that has some very compelling and tighter, hotter solo work from Fresu. The rhythmic interplay between Swallow and Drummond is utterly entrancing and remarkable. The gorgeous chord voicing that underscore the solo lines by both Fresu and Sheppard are among some of Bley's tastiest yet. It's a kind of pronounced rhythmic counterpoint that uses the dynamic shapes and shades to offer something a little darker to the mix. There are three cuts outside "The Banana Quintet." There's the languid, sloping swing of "The Liver of Life," with some wonderful harmonic head playing by Sheppard and Fresu. "Death of Superman/Dream Sequence, No. 1: Flying" begins with another deeply song-like bass solo by Swallow and opens onto a limpid palette with breezy tones, at a ballad tempo. Sheppard's solo is spare but exquisite. Finally, "Ad Infinitium" offers Bley's post-bop composition at its best with a fine swinger that walks a line between mid- and quick tempo, gaining in both musculature and a chameleon-like set of changes that are negotiated wonderfully -- especially by their notation in Drummond's skittering breakbeats. Once more, Fresu rises to a faster, tighter flight solo and is answered by Sheppard, the distance between those two sounds breached by the shifting of Bley's big chords, giving them both a wonderful chromatic line to walk. With all of her strengths on display here, from humor and a strict reliance on substance over her own considerable instrumental virtuosity, to her canny compositional skill at writing balanced and nuanced, elegant works that add to the actual literature of the music, this baby trumps the Lost Chords quartet date (it's sort of amazing that's even possible) in all the right places, making it arguably the finest small group record Bley's ever made. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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The Lost Chords

Carla Bley

Jazz - Released July 13, 2004 | Watt

The Lost Chords are Carla Bley (piano), Andy Sheppard (saxophones), Steve Swallow (electric bass), and Billy Drummond (drums). This self-titled album is a document from the quartet's 2003 European tour. The set begins with the three-part suite "3 Blind Mice," a decidedly straight-ahead set comprised of bluesy hard bop and post-bop tropes. Bley and Sheppard solo and play the front line with great rapport; they complement one another well and their exchanges are relaxed and lyrical. The slightly dissonant angularity of "Hip Hop" reflects Bley's sense of humor as well as her affinity for the funky blues of Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons. "Lost Chords," the nearly 17-minute three-part suite that bookends the album at its close, is one of the most beautifully lyrical pieces Bley has ever composed. Its wide reach across ballad, bop, and modal developments is ambitious, and yet it is also seamless. As showcased to great effect here, Swallow's bass playing, while always subtle and unobtrusive, is such a force in this band that he becomes its entire spine. The depth of communication here is marvelous, and given the level of comfort these musicians have with one another, that feeling of ease is communicated to the listener as well. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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CDkr177.59

The Lost Chords

Carla Bley

Jazz - Released July 13, 2004 | Watt

The Lost Chords are Carla Bley (piano), Andy Sheppard (saxophones), Steve Swallow (electric bass), and Billy Drummond (drums). This self-titled album is a document from the quartet's 2003 European tour. The set begins with the three-part suite "3 Blind Mice," a decidedly straight-ahead set comprised of bluesy hard bop and post-bop tropes. Bley and Sheppard solo and play the front line with great rapport; they complement one another well and their exchanges are relaxed and lyrical. The slightly dissonant angularity of "Hip Hop" reflects Bley's sense of humor as well as her affinity for the funky blues of Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons. "Lost Chords," the nearly 17-minute three-part suite that bookends the album at its close, is one of the most beautifully lyrical pieces Bley has ever composed. Its wide reach across ballad, bop, and modal developments is ambitious, and yet it is also seamless. As showcased to great effect here, Swallow's bass playing, while always subtle and unobtrusive, is such a force in this band that he becomes its entire spine. The depth of communication here is marvelous, and given the level of comfort these musicians have with one another, that feeling of ease is communicated to the listener as well. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Looking For America

The Carla Bley Big Band

Jazz - Released May 5, 2003 | Watt

In a year of patriotism run riot, leave it to composer, pianist, and bandleader Carla Bley to take a look for the heart of what makes it tick -- and what it means to be an Americanski. The Bley Big Band hadn't been around for a while, and this outing is a welcome return. Featuring soloists Lew Soloff, Gary Valente, the remarkable Andy Sheppard, and Wolfgang Puschnig, this most Yankee band goes through the mysterious humor of Bley's sense of irony, harmony, and history to find out where the soul of America lies: in its music, its humor, its over-inflated vision of itself, its funkiness, its innovation, its blindness and crass gift for overstatement, or all of the above. Here, the nearly 22-minute "National Anthem" (comprised of a suite of short pieces with titles such as "OG Can UC?," "Whose Broad Stripes?," "Keep It Spangled," etc.) quotes from America's musical past, including "America the Beautiful," both football and military marches (is there a difference?), swing tunes, Dixieland, pop, and country & western, to state with verve that America is best viewed through the lens of a telescope. "Fast Lane" relies on a hard swinging bebop melodic figure to kick its reed and wind heavy harmonics into gear. The rhythm section chops it down and builds it up again as the horns play startling counterpoint. There are four tracks with the word "mother" in them, and all feature various aspects of that eternal mother Lady Liberty as well as moms everywhere. In "Los Cocineros" and "Tijuana Traffic," you have to wonder which way the American tide is flowing, to or from South of the borderline. Song figures worthy of Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass meet complex Cuban and mariachi rhythms and harmonics in intervallic motions of line and impression. The set ends with the most bluesed-out read of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" in the history of American popular music. Soloff plays the grit and sweat in both the blues and the barnyard with his opening statement. Stan Kenton would have been proud of this arrangement with its funky rhythmic structure, interwoven solos, and bassline harmonic architecture that expands as the tune goes. Looking for America is a fun, innovative, and indefatigable album by one of the true geniuses in modern jazz. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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No Answer / Silence

Michael Mantler

Jazz - Released February 7, 2000 | Watt

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4 X 4

Carla Bley

Jazz - Released September 25, 2000 | Watt

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Are We There Yet?

Carla Bley

Jazz - Released June 21, 1999 | Watt

Carla Bley and Steve Swallow's third outing as a duo captures them live on their 1998 European tour sounding fabulous. Three of the seven tunes are by Bley: "Major," an infectious triadic shell game; "King Korn," a whimsical run through rhythm changes in the keys of E flat and C; and "Musique Mecanique," an ambitious three-part suite adapted from Bley's 1978 album of the same name. Three other compositions are by Swallow: "A Dog's Life," a Ray Charles-style tune in a slow 6/8; "Satie for Two," an affecting tribute to the minimalist composer; and "Playing With Water," a bossa nova previously performed by Swallow's 1991 sextet. The only non-original of the set is Kurt Weill's ballad "Lost in the Stars," which Bley and Swallow play beautifully. Bley's piano is remarkably versatile and passionate, and Swallow's signature electric bass sound tickles the senses, especially during the Weill song where one moment he makes the room vibrate with low notes, and the next reaches the stratosphere of his range with singing melodies. © David R. Adler /TiVo
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Fancy Chamber Music

Carla Bley

Jazz - Released June 22, 1998 | Watt

Always the iconoclast, here pianist Bley applies her keen musical skill on baroque and chamber styles with tongue firmly in cheek and a fine string section to set the mood. The opening track, "Wolfgang Tango," is a brooding romantic excursion with humorous undertones. "The End of Vienna" features subtle keyboard work by Bley in a beautiful panoramic melody. But the trickster in Bley can't help but mix things up with the more challenging angles of "Tigers in Training." The closing track, a moving and rather creepy "JonBenet," is presumably an homage to the murdered child beauty queen. © Tim Sheridan /TiVo
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The Carla Bley Big Band Goes To Church

The Carla Bley Big Band

Jazz - Released November 1, 1996 | Watt

Recorded live during an Italian jazz festival, The Carla Bley Big Band Goes to Church is a perfect showcase for the forward-thinking compositions and arrangements of Carla Bley. Starting with "Setting Calvin's Waltz," a gentle, reverent blues that blooms into a nearly 24 minute workout for the whole ensemble, the album displays Bley's spontenaiety, flexibility and lightness, unique to her and few others within the modern large group format. It helps that this material is highly sympathetic to her style -- as Bley's band splits apart into sections and solos, then reforms again, echoes can be heard of gospel music, with its powerful choirs counterpointed by the clarity of a single voice. Not quite as experimental as her earlier compositions, this album manages, regardless to be among her best work in the '90s. © Stacia Proefrock /TiVo
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Farewell

Karen Mantler

Jazz - Released June 1, 1996 | Watt

After an absence of half a decade, Karen Mantler returned with this somber song cycle in 1996. Where her first two albums (MY CAT ARNOLD, and KAREN MANTLER AND HER CAT ARNOLD GET THE FLUE) chronicled aspects of her life as well as her attachment to her cat, FAREWELL looks at the death of Arnold and her life without him. After two albums with a band, this work was created just by Mantler and percussionist Michael Evans, and the smaller scale approach suits the subject. The two players' inventiveness is compelling. "Help Me" is a mournful tune centered on the harmonium with evocative percussion underscoring the mood. Mantler sings, with some input from Evans, who adds counterpoint to the character-driven narratives. The mood throughout is not unlike that created on many of the works by her mother, the composer Carla Bley. © TiVo
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I Hate To Sing

The Carla Bley Band

Jazz - Released January 1, 1984 | Watt

Elements of vaudevillian silliness show up on many Carla Bley albums, but usually as grace notes within compositions that are known for their musical strength and density. I Hate to Sing is a notable exception -- here the airy, goofy tone seems to be the only thing holding the album together. Fans of the Carla Bley Band will appreciate the group's jovial performance and loose, swinging style, but this is little more than a novelty album. Not until the final track "Battleship" does the band really stretch itself musically; by then the preceding jokey, toneless vocals and open, pendular riffs have set the mood to such an extent that the listener is almost stunned by the contrasting non-fluffiness. Many of the elements here are also found on the considerably more dense and thoughtful album Tropic Appetites from a decade earlier. Tropic Appetites is preferable to I Hate to Sing for those seeking a more artful combination of compositional strength and humor. © Stacia Proefrock /TiVo
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Songs With Legs

Carla Bley

Jazz - Released January 1, 1995 | Watt

On many of her recordings, Carla Bley could hardly be accused of hogging the spotlight as a soloist; emphasizing her talents as a bandleader, composer and arranger, she tends to let her sidemen take the long solos. But she gives herself a lot more space on 1992's Go Together and Songs with Legs, a live album that was recorded during a May 1994 tour that included dates in Turkey and Western Europe. Forming a drumless trio with longtime ally Steve Swallow (bass) and Britain's flexible Andy Sheppard (tenor and soprano sax), Bley sticks to the acoustic piano and gives herself plenty of room to stretch out. It's a shame that she's often chosen to take few solos, for Bley's pianism is quite appealing on Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso" and angular, cerebral originals like "Wrong Key Donkey," "Chicken," and "Real Life Hits." Meanwhile, the CD's less abstract, more accessible tunes include the churchy "The Lord Is Listenin' to Ya, Hallelujah!" and the dreamy, Pharoah Sanders-ish "Crazy with You." For those who've said they wish Bley would solo more often, Songs with Legs is an album to hear. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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Big Band Theory

Carla Bley

Jazz - Released October 1, 1993 | Watt

Carla Bley's 1993 recording Big Band Theory features her 18-piece orchestra playing three rather moody and atmospheric originals, plus a straightforward rendition of Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." Listeners expecting the rambunctious humor that was present in some of Bley's earlier big band albums will be disappointed, but there is quite a bit of beauty on this set, particularly during the dramatic slow section of "Birds of Paradise" and the strangely episodic "On the Stage in Cages." Key among the soloists are trumpeter Lew Soloff, trombonist Gary Valente, altoist Wolfgang Puschnig, Andy Sheppard on tenor, and violinist Alex Balanescu. But overall this set (which is enjoyable enough) is less memorable than one would expect from Carla Bley. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Go Together

Carla Bley

Jazz - Released January 1, 1992 | Watt

After years spent emphasizing her compositions and bandleading abilities, in the late '80s, Carla Bley finally started featuring her own piano playing to a much greater degree. A melodic but explorative player, Bley (whose use of space sometimes recalls Thelonious Monk) interacts closely with the electric bass of Steve Swallow on this excellent duet session, performing six of her originals and two of Swallow's. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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The Very Big Carla Bley Band

The Very Big Carla Bley Band

Jazz - Released April 1, 1991 | Watt

This 1990 recording found Carla Bley at the helm of an 18-piece big band and signaled a return of sorts to a more traditional jazz sound than had been evidenced on many of her albums of the '80s, which had ventured more often into jazz-rock and funk territories. Also missing, however, was the imagination and risk-taking that characterized her masterworks of the '70s, Escalator Over the Hill and Tropic Appetites. The result is a fairly solid, if slightly bland, date that may cause the listener to pine for her earlier "excesses." There are still some Bley trademarks to be encountered: a quote from Thelonious Monk here, a touch of tango there, perhaps a hint of a march surfacing now and then. The overriding spirit, though, seem to be Charles Mingus, whose harmonies and pacing are echoed in a number of pieces, even if his earthiness and passion are lacking. The band has its share of fine musicians, both as soloists and ensemble players, including longtime comrade Gary Valente on trombone, trumpeter Lew Soloff, and Andy Sheppard on tenor and soprano sax, who provide some strong work throughout. Steve Swallow's virtuoso electric bass, sounding for all the world like an ultra-soft electric guitar, is given a very pretty spot in the opening selection, "United States." But in the end, Bley's themes and structures tend more toward the competent than the stirring or memorable, leaving one desirous of the richer fare that she has served in the past. © Brian Olewnick /TiVo
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Karen Mantler And Her Cat Arnold Get The Flu

Karen Mantler

Jazz - Released July 1, 1990 | Watt

Karen Mantler and her crew follow up their debut with more of the same: sort-of jazz coupled with way off-kilter pop, all filtered through her bizarre and pervasive sense of humor. The band is the same, featuring the progeny of several famous jazz musicians, and of course Karen's pet cat Arnold is present for all the cover art. The album starts with an extremely queasy synth, and Karen remarking "nothing is as bad as the flu/torture would be nice/compared to this," before the band slides into a killer slinky groove as she details her bout with the Shanghai-A virus. "I Love Christmas" doesn't quite deliver the sentiment one might expect, with the band trying to convince Karen to actually enjoy Christmas as she focuses on the downside of the holidays (she is eventually won over). The old chestnut "Mean to Me" is given added meaning as the band starts to deride Karen for her harmonica playing. "My Organ" is another highlight, with Mantler professing her love for the title object. The way Mantler uses regular, everyday language and thought is truly unique, and the way the band cooks behind her is in sharp contrast to their seeming disinterest in delivering much by way of backup vocals. The whole album is a goofy good time, and unlike any other group out there. It's probably too pop for jazzers, and too weird for the pop crowd, but if that sounds intriguing, you'll probably enjoy Karen Mantler. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo
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The WATT Works Family Album

Carla Bley

Jazz - Released April 1, 1990 | Watt

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Fleur Carnivore

Carla Bley

Jazz - Released November 1, 1988 | Watt

On Fleur Carnivore, pianist Carla Bley deftly integrates her beautiful melodies into five complex, yet effortless sounding pieces. Taken from 1988 live dates at Copenhagen's Montmartre club, Carnivore spotlights Bley's very accomplished big band, which includes, amongst several others, trumpeter Lew Soloff, alto saxophonist Wolfgang Pusching, trombonist Gary Valente, tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard, and organist/harmonica player Karen Mantler (Bley's daughter). The title track is a romantically bittersweet ballad swinger, which includes impassioned solos from Pusching and Soloff, while, in nice contrast, there's the buoyant, Latin-tinged "Song of the Eternal Waiting of Canute," featuring rousing solos by Valente and tenor saxophonist Christof Lauer. In addition to these extended pieces, there is the suite composition, "The Girl Who Cried Champagne (Parts 1/2/3)." This breezily swinging bossa nova features meaty tenor work from Sheppard and a minimalist harmonic solo by Mantler. Rounding out the set are the whimsical "Ups and Downs" and the gospel R&B tune "Healing Power." Combining surprising arrangements and pop song melodies, Bley creates a unique jazz language, setting herself apart from both traditionalist bandleaders (Wynton Marsalis, Thad Jones) and more avant-garde stylists (Muhal Richard Abrams, George Russell). Fleur Carnivore is one of Bley's best titles and good place to start for newcomers. © Stephen Cook /TiVo
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Duets

Carla Bley

Jazz - Released November 7, 1988 | Watt

With Steve Swallow on bass, their tremendous musical rapport and precise wit are really beautiful. It comes highly recommended. © David Nelson McCarthy /TiVo