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Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow: Andando el Tiempo

Karl Ackermann By

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There are few figures in modern music that are truly more iconic than Carla Bley. Her list of accomplishments are impossible to chronicle in this limited space, but suffice to say that her influence traverses genres, styles and generations, in a way that perhaps no other artist has approached. Her early crowning jewel—the jazz opera Escalator Over The Hill (JCOA Records, 1971)—featured a who's-who of music including Jack Bruce, Linda Ronstadt, Don Cherry, Don Preston, Charlie Haden, Michael Mantler, Karen Mantler, Roswell Rudd, Gato Barbieri, Karl Berger, Leroy Jenkins, John McLaughlin, Paul Motian and Enrico Rava. Though it was clearly a joint effort, it helped establish Bley as a creative force to be reckoned with and she has never looked back.

Bley, once the spouse of the late Paul Bley, has had her compositions recorded by an equally impressive list of artists including her former husband. Phil Woods, Jaco Pastorius, Arturo O'Farrill, Eberhard Weber, Jan Garbarek, George Russell, Jimmy Guiffre and Tony Williams just scratch the surface of those who've recorded Bley compositions. Bley and Charlie Haden broke new ground with the Liberation Music Orchestra who recorded four unusually provocative albums from 1969 through 2005. From their self-titled debut, the group featured politically-charged music including pieces inspired by Che Guevara and the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The final LMO album, Not In Our Name (Verve, 2005) was a direct anti-war response to U.S. policies in the Middle East.

With almost two-dozen recordings as a leader and more dozens as a collaborator, Bley has taken on almost every conceivable formation, even tackling a couple of vocals on her I Hate to Sing (WATT, 1984) while playing a keyboard assortment of organ, glockenspiel and piano. Always considered a stellar band leader, Bley's skills as a pianist were often underrated and her preference for larger ensembles hasn't shone a spotlight on her solo work. Still her WATT/ECM duo albums with Steve Swallow, Duets (1988), Go Together (1993) and Are We There Yet? (1999), displayed a gifted—if less than flamboyant—pianist. Those more intimate setting tend to be the exceptions for Bley, but with her ECM debut Trios (2013) and now, with Andando el Tiempo we are again treated to her more personal and familiar approach as she reunites with Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard.

The melodic, but curiously off-kilter, "Sin Fin" features the gentle serpentine web of Sheppard's tenor working around Bley's understated melody. Swallow supplies a beautiful solo on the mesmerizing "Potación De Guaya" where Sheppard seems to float in and out of the body of the piece. The bassist provides a supple lead on the Latin flavored "Camino Al Volver"; Sheppard and Bley coming along later to fill in with light but sophisticated content. "Saints Alive!"—despite the excitable title—is a low key work with the soprano and bass dialog being prominent. "Naked Bridges/Diving Brides," written for Sheppard's wedding, is influenced by German composer Felix Mendelssohn and poet Paul Haines (of Escalator... fame). This, the closing piece of the five lengthy compositions, has strong impressionistic qualities that are both ceremonial and idyllic.

Because Bley works under so many different musical umbrellas, it's difficult (and perhaps, meaningless) to generate some hierarchy of quality in individual projects. But as the release of Andando el Tiempo coincides with her eightieth birthday, it seems appropriate to place the recording in the scheme of Bley's long and impressive career. To that end, the collection is as fine a small-group recording as Bley has produced in her career. While she has mastered all characteristics of musical narrative, here she has minimized the levity and occasional excesses in favor of warmth and class. It is a beautiful album.

Track Listing: Sin Fin; Potación De Guaya; Camino Al Volver; Saints Alive!; Naked Bridges / Diving Brides.

Personnel: Carla Bley: piano; Andy Sheppard: tenor/soprano saxophones; Steve Swallow: bass.

Title: Andando el Tiempo | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: ECM Records

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