Although much of her music is imbued with subtle humor, Carla Bley's compositions are serious music. Finnish pianist Iro Haarla is a long-time admirer of the Bley, and on this CD she gives her music an appropriate gravity, while retaining its spirited nature.
Haarla is accompanied by her musical partner, Ulf Krokfors, on bass and Barry Altschul on drums. They play Bley tunes that were mostly introduced on record by Paul Bley back in the 60s and 70s, but bring a more expansive touch. Familiar melodies like "Vashkar," "King Korn," "Jesus Maria" and "Ida Lupino." are examined at a slightly slower tempo that allows piano, bass and drums to weave together poignant lines within the shapes of the compositions. This treatment gives "Ida Lupino" a dreamy gloss while "Jesus Maria" gains a South Sea island flavor.
The arrangements give equal weight to Haarla's fragmentary bits of melody, Krokfors groaning bass lines and Altschul's percussive rustle. Haarla's playing is both firm and delicate. Her sound is mostly romantic but she is properly impish and playful on the up-tempo tracks, "Start" and "Around Again." Altschul, who played some on the original Paul Bley recordings of these pieces, shines in moments like his tumbling solo on "And Now The Queen" and his rolling introduction to "Olhos De Gato." Krokfors' bass playing has the nobility of Charlie Haden and he is adept at maintaining a rhythmic tension that grounds the music.
There's a temptation to compare this set to those early Paul Bley records, especially with Altschul present, but these versions are not the same. Haarla sounds like she has lived with this music for a long time and gives it a mature and respectful interpretation. The set is an excellent reminder of the beauty of Carla Bley's early canon.
Closer; Vashkar; Batterie; Ida Lupino; Around Again; Olhos De Gato; Intermission Music; King Korn; And Now, the Queen; Utviklingssang; Start; Jesus Maria.