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Carla Bley Big Band: Appearing Nightly

Budd Kopman By

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Appearing Nightly conflates four of the most delightful things in the world—being in a jazz club with white tablecloths and a martini listening to live music played but a few feet away, a big band cooking on stage, the music being played harkening back to jazz of the 1950s, and finally that music refracted through the mind of the inimitable pianist and composer Carla Bley.

Anyone who was lucky enough to hear some of this music in a quartet setting at Bley's Song With Legs gig at Birdland in New York City in April, 2008 should find the full-length live version an intriguing listen. The genesis of the music involves the intersection of Bley's early years breathing in (literally) the atmosphere of jazz in New York City in the 1950s with a commission from the 2005 Monterey Jazz Festival and another commission from the Orchestra Jazz della Sardegna.

Bley's music for the Monterey commission, entitled "Appearing Nightly At The Black Orchid," included memories of a (very short) solo piano gig at a Monterey club called "The Black Orchid," with four sections whose titles echo that event—"40 On / 20 Off," "Second Round," "What Would You Like To Hear?" and "Last Call." This twenty-five minute piece has all of Bley's hallmarks, as a composer and specifically as a composer for a big band. While the seventeen piece orchestra is structured normally, it sounds nothing like Duke Ellington, Count Basie or anyone from the "classic" era Bley loves, nor does it come anywhere near the Maria Schneider "orchestral" sound.

Instead, the music is a unique and very effective mixture of complex arrangements with shifting tempi and sounds, handled with ease by a superb group of musicians and with more than enough room for terrific solos. It pays homage to the earlier big bands by burning with their spirit, while being filtered through Bley's quirky and serious humor, making for a piece in which it is very easy to get lost.

The Sardegna commission was to be played at a festival called Dinner Music and was supposed to be related somehow to food. These two pieces, "Greasy Gravy" and "Awful Coffee," start the album, the former slithering with a very sexy rhythm (and a "Pretty Baby" quote) and the latter burning hard and tightly with many quotes from standards that have food titles.

The audience loved every second of this wonderful set, applauding not only for the solos but also for the ensemble sections. Bley has surely succeeded in musically incarnating her past and her love of that music with her ever-present wit and high spirits.

Track Listing: Greasy Gravy; Awful Coffee; Appearing Nightly at the Black Orchid: 40 On/20 Off, Second Round, What Would You Like to Hear?, Last Call; Someone to Watch; I Hadn't Anyone 'Till You.

Personnel: Earl Gardner: trumpet; Lew Soloff: trumpet; Giampaolo Casati: trumpet; Florian Esch: trumpet; Beppe Calamosca: trombone; Gary Valente: trombone; Gigi Grata: trombone; Richard Henry: trombone; Roger Jannotta: soprano and alto saxophone, flute; Wolfgang Puschnig: alto saxophone, flute; Andy Sheppard: tenor saxophone; Christophe Panzani: tenor saxophone; Julian Arguelles: baritone saxophone; Carla Bley: piano, conductor; Karen Mantler: organ; Steve Swallow: bass; Billy Drummond: drums.

Title: Appearing Nightly | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ECM Records

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