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Jazz - Released September 6, 2013 | ECM

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 4F de Télérama - The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Hi-Res Audio - Sélection JAZZ NEWS
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Jazz - Released May 6, 2016 | ECM

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 4 étoiles Classica
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Jazz - Released February 14, 2020 | ECM

Hi-Res Booklet
A sage piano stylist audibly influenced by Basie and Monk among others, Carla Bley has over the past 60 years also become one of jazz's preeminent composers. Originally influenced by '60s jazz avant-garde, Bley, as evidenced by her latest, Life Goes On, has fashioned her own jazz ethos—what ECM's Manfred Eicher has called her "radical originality." In jazz groups of any size longevity is often impossible as the essence of the music is often dependent on the potential of new combinations of talent, and yet a large part of Bley's recent success is keyed by her working trio of bassist/life partner Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard, who've been together for 25 years. Based around three suites—her most preferred form of composition—the lean and spacious Life Goes On is wonderfully confident and distinct. The opening movement of the title track is sly blues before turning to two parts that explore her trademark melodic mingling of classical music discipline and free jazz adventure. It concludes with "And Then One Day," where Bley holds down the rhythm with a repeated figure, over which Sheppard plays jaunty lines that have more than a whiff of Paul Desmond's cool tone. "Beautiful Telephones," based upon the current chief executive's comment about the Oval Office's exceptional phones, begins with Bley downshifting emotionally and exploring a more somber mood with Swallow plucking out his notes and Sheppard's tenor saxophone providing an equally unsettling counterpoint. In this work's final movement, the tempos pick up and her characteristic humor comes to the fore as she wryly quotes "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," "The Star-Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful," and other patriotic hymns in a modern echo of her '70s composition, "Spangled Banner Minor and Other Patriotic Songs." The final suite, "Copycat" explores the hallowed jazz device of call-and-response as a conversation between three supremely accomplished players, whose clairvoyant togetherness shifts between agreeable and discordant. While it's right to applaud the current rush of praise for the fresh energies that youth are bringing to music these days, the deep wisdom and impeccable craft of a pioneer like Bley deserves to be equally acclaimed. © Robert Baird / Qobuz
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Jazz - Released September 9, 2013 | ECM

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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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Jazz - Released April 1, 1993 | Watt

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Jazz - Released November 7, 1988 | Watt

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Jazz - Released February 14, 2020 | ECM

Booklet
A sage piano stylist audibly influenced by Basie and Monk among others, Carla Bley has over the past 60 years also become one of jazz's preeminent composers. Originally influenced by '60s jazz avant-garde, Bley, as evidenced by her latest, Life Goes On, has fashioned her own jazz ethos—what ECM's Manfred Eicher has called her "radical originality." In jazz groups of any size longevity is often impossible as the essence of the music is often dependent on the potential of new combinations of talent, and yet a large part of Bley's recent success is keyed by her working trio of bassist/life partner Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard, who've been together for 25 years. Based around three suites—her most preferred form of composition—the lean and spacious Life Goes On is wonderfully confident and distinct. The opening movement of the title track is sly blues before turning to two parts that explore her trademark melodic mingling of classical music discipline and free jazz adventure. It concludes with "And Then One Day," where Bley holds down the rhythm with a repeated figure, over which Sheppard plays jaunty lines that have more than a whiff of Paul Desmond's cool tone. "Beautiful Telephones," based upon the current chief executive's comment about the Oval Office's exceptional phones, begins with Bley downshifting emotionally and exploring a more somber mood with Swallow plucking out his notes and Sheppard's tenor saxophone providing an equally unsettling counterpoint. In this work's final movement, the tempos pick up and her characteristic humor comes to the fore as she wryly quotes "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," "The Star-Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful," and other patriotic hymns in a modern echo of her '70s composition, "Spangled Banner Minor and Other Patriotic Songs." The final suite, "Copycat" explores the hallowed jazz device of call-and-response as a conversation between three supremely accomplished players, whose clairvoyant togetherness shifts between agreeable and discordant. While it's right to applaud the current rush of praise for the fresh energies that youth are bringing to music these days, the deep wisdom and impeccable craft of a pioneer like Bley deserves to be equally acclaimed. © Robert Baird / Qobuz
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Jazz - Released January 26, 2004 | ECM

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Jazz - Released March 1, 1987 | Watt

Bley continued to make mostly mellow, untroubled music for satisfied, sensible ECM shoppers on this 1987 release, keeping any larger or quirkier ambitions under wraps in the hope perhaps of attracting a wider audience. Here Bley pares down the numbers of her forces to six -- herself on organ, Hiram Bullock (guitar), Larry Willis (piano), Steve Swallow (bass), Victor Lewis (drums) and Don Alias (percussion) -- and the group sails or saunters through a sextet of unambiguously easygoing numbers. The best of the lot has the effervescent title "The Girl Who Cried Champagne," an appealingly cool, percolating Latin groove with near-lounge-style organ from Bley and a mildly incendiary rock solo from Bullock, while "Healing Power" comes close to breaking into a pounding rock beat. The sound bathes in a polished golden ambience very much in keeping with a product distributed under the ECM banner. © Richard S. Ginell /TiVo
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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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Jazz - Released November 6, 2009 | ECM

Carla Bley and Christmas carols? You bet. She loves them and has incorporated them into her live sets for decades now. On this WATT release, recorded in 2008 at La Buisonne Studio in the south of France, she and bassist Steve Swallow took a couple of days off a European tour with the Partyka Brass Quintet and cut ten of the 12 selections here. The other two pieces -- "O Holy Night" and "Joy to the World" -- were taken from a concert performance four days earlier in Berlin. This may be the Christmas recording of 2009. Bley's arrangements are both elegant and sometimes quirky, but always engaging and fun, and show a complete love of the original material. Check her readings of "The Christmas Song," the two-part "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and the deeply moving and soulful version of "O Holy Night," where the lead melody is played by Swallow. In addition, these songs in Bley's hands all have swing in them -- a beautiful example is in "Ring Christmas Bells," with Bley's added cadenza in the bridge. There are also two Bley originals in the set that serve as a very proper and even surprising introduction to "Jingle Bells." The first is, of course, the utterly playful "Hell's Bells" and the grooving hard bop swing in it provided by Swallow's playing. In the middle section he and Tobias Weidinger's trumpet go head to head, followed by some ensemble play and Bley's own solo before the "Jingle Bells" theme is stated in striated harmony. This segues into an absolutely gorgeous "Jesus Maria" (which Jimmy Giuffre first recorded back in 1961), and is quite at home in this collection of carols. "Jingle Bells" itself is like a mini-suite of jazz from New Orleans to New York (with nice touches from Weidinger's glockenspiel and Edward Partyka's tuba). While the argument that there should be a moratorium on Christmas recordings is a good one in the 21st century, Carla's Christmas Carols provides a powerful counter to that view. She has added so much to these songs without taking away any of the warmth, joy, and nostalgia inherent to the season or their place in it. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 1, 1977 | Watt

First excursion on a funky trail, executed immaculately. Near essential. © Michael G. Nastos /TiVo
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Jazz - Released June 7, 2004 | Watt

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Jazz - Released October 1, 1989 | 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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Jazz - Released February 1, 1978 | Watt

Following their superb "chronotransduction," Escalator Over the Hill, composer Carla Bley and poet Paul Haines once again teamed up for Tropic Appetites, a somewhat different, but equally compelling effort. The instrumentation is scaled down to an octet and the lyrics revolve around trips to Southeast Asia, particularly Bali, made by Haines over the preceding years. Bley makes an inspired choice for lead vocalist by enlisting the extraordinary Julie Tippetts who had attained rock stardom in the late '60s (as Julie Driscoll) in Brian Auger's Trinity. After a powerful introductory "overture" led by the still incendiary Gato Barbieri who, for contractual reasons, is referred to in the credits as "Unidentified Cat," the hothouse atmosphere of the recording is established by the next song, "In India," with its humid, surreal lyrics.Bley consistently provides rich, imaginative, and varied underpinnings for Tippett's crystalline vocal work. From the ferocious and angry "Enormous Tots" to the yearning "Caucasian Bird Riffles" to the delightful singsong "Funnybird Song" featuring priceless vocals from Howard Johnson and Bley's very young daughter Karen Mantler (who would go on to a career of her own), the music is strong and memorable throughout. All of the musicians are in top form, but special mention should be made of the dream rhythm team of David Holland and Paul Motian. Their tonal colors and supple interplay is a major factor of the success of this album. Tropic Appetites is one of Carla Bley's greatest successes; one could only wish that she had continued in this vein rather than opting for the jazz-funk bands she led from 1980 forward. © Brian Olewnick /TiVo
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Jazz - Released June 29, 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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Jazz - Released June 21, 1999 | Watt

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Jazz - Released November 1, 1985 | Watt

Though Heavy Heart was supposedly the "mellow, sensual" album Carla Bley had in mind, Night-Glo is more like it -- a relaxed, easygoing, easy-listening series of compositions that nearly spills over into fuzak. Writing for a basic sextet with an added five-man horn section, most effectively when one color melts gently into another, Bley permits the lazy pina-colada mood to amble undisturbed from track to track. Hiram Bullock's guitar, whether in rock or jazz modes, almost defines the laid-back ambience all by itself; Steve Swallow's bass underpins the relaxed groove and velvety horn textures (Randy Brecker is the trumpet voice there); and Paul McCandless can be heard on a variety of single- and double-reed wind instruments. It's a pretty album, always intelligently made, but interminable at times -- most noticeably on the aptly named "Rut." © Richard S. Ginell /TiVo