Longstanding piano-bass tandem Iro Haarla
and Ulf Krokfors
team up with drummer Barry Altschul
for Around Again
, a reverent and eminently rewarding tribute to Carla Bley
. All three musicians possess a deep familiarity with Bley's work. Haarla's dates from her earliest conservatory studies at Finland's Sibelius Academy in the 1970s, while Altschul played on Paul Bley
's magnificent Closer
(ESP, 1965), itself a record built around Carla's compositions. Krokfors actually came up with the idea for Around Again
as he was revisiting his own study of Paul Bley's classic trio records, noting Carla's pivotal role in Paul's development, and it's immediately evident in listening to these twelve pieces that the trio have an expert grasp of the deceptive simplicity and enduring appeal of her music.
Haarla's technique is perfect for Bley's fluid, elliptical pieces. Their melodic content is undeniable, and Haarla captures it wellsometimes with just a few languid, perfectly-placed notes, as on the stunning "Closer," one of five pieces found on the aforementioned Paul Bley record that are featured here. She also has a resolute openness to her playing, and a comfort with space and silence, which means she doesn't feel compelled to rush the music or fill it with needless ornamentation. But when she does turn up the intensity level, as on "Batterie" or "Start," her choices are ideal in balancing energy and lyricism. There's nothing timid about her playing, but she is content to let the shape of each piece dictate her approach, and even in her most adventurous moments there is a strong melodic thread to be found.
Equally impressive are Krokfors and Altschul, both of whom avoid overplaying in service to the needs of the music. Krokfors has a lithesome dexterity when the conversation becomes a bit more animated, as it certainly does on "King Korn." But his rapturously patient offerings on the folk-like "Utviklingssang" are just as memorable, letting the piece's somber poignancy emerge beautifully through his sparse restraint. Altschul is also a marvel, capable of maintaining the subtle momentum of the music while steadfastly eschewing the role of timekeeper. He's a sublimely melodic presence, with a sensitivity to Bley's music that shines throughout the record.
The production and packaging of the album are also first-rate. Not only is the recording of superior qualityespecially welcome, given the intricacy and delicacy of the musicianshipbut the album features lovely cover art from Ole Kandelin and a richly informative booklet that provides detailed background on both the trio and Bley herself, in addition to a song-by-song history of Bley's compositions on the record. In an age in which downloads and streaming often render such considerations an afterthought, TUM is to be commended on its dedication to giving its music the stellar presentation it deserves.
A noteworthy musical accomplishment in its own right, but especially significant in highlighting the ongoing importance of Carla Bley's invaluable contributions, Around Again
is a superb release and a triumph for these three outstanding musicians.