Home » Jazz Articles » Carla Bley Trio at Dazzle


Live Review

Carla Bley Trio at Dazzle


Sign in to view read count
Carla Bley Trio
Denver, CO
March 24, 2019

At age 82, Carla Bley has been around. But not everywhere. Remarkably, her two nights at Dazzle last weekend marked her first appearances in Colorado as a performer. Still, the depth and scope of her past music-making is unmatched by most musicians on the scene today. She thinks of herself primarily as a composer and in that role has written for big band, small ensembles and in between sized bands. Then there's her sprawling jazz opera, Escalator Over the Hill (JCOA/Watt, 1971), originally released as a three record set in 1971.

For her Denver appearance, Bley brought her trio that she has recorded and toured with for many years; her long-time partner Steve Swallow on bass and Andy Sheppard on tenor and soprano saxophones. The three created atmospheres and moods, occasionally swung and even ventured into the blues. After recording for years on the Watt record label that she and her former husband Michael Mantler started, her last two albums, featuring this same trio, have been on ECM Records. Indeed, this trio's aesthetic is a perfect fit with the distinctive sound ECM has cultivated over the decades.

Bley composed all of the music on the program except for one, "Misterioso" by Thelonious Monk. That's a tune Bley has played over the years, but it was also appropriate because much of Bley's playing is influenced by Monk's sound. In fact, the piano introduction to "Wildlife" had touch of "Pannonica." Her playing Sunday night eschewed flash and bombast, instead emphasizing the melodies of her compositions. She concentrated most on being part of the trio rather than stepping out in front and demanding the spotlight.

Although the arrangements left room for solos, the music was highly arranged and the musicians relied heavily on sheet music throughout the performance. Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising considering the composer-focus of the leader and resulting complexities of the music. And those compositions proved to be continually intriguing. Bley deviated from the typical 4/4 rhythm of most jazz by importing an extra beat to vary the sound with 5/4 time on one tune. At another point, the trio ventured into the minimalist world by tucking into a somewhat repetitive and delicate groove that slowly morphed over time, seeming to take a page from Steve Reich or Philip Glass. And, on Monk's "Misterioso," the band dug into the blues during an extended improvisational mid-section.

Steve Swallow, 78, who has played Colorado a number of times in the past, including as part of the John Scofield trio about a decade ago, continued to provide a steady and creative undercurrent with his distinctive bass sound. He brought his electric five-string hollow body bass and used it primarily for single note runs. His newest innovation seems to be his visual transformation into Bernie Sanders.

Andy Sheppard, a mere pup at 62, brought along both his tenor and soprano sax, but he clearly favored the tenor, picking up the soprano only briefly. He and Bley occasionally played in unison, but most often, he had the melody to himself. His solos were understated and melodic, often only a slight deviation from the main theme of the music.

All three musicians have enjoyed long careers and it's a joy to hear them continuing to make relevant, vibrant music.

Post a comment

For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.




Read The Ten Best  Jazz Christmas Albums Of All Time
Read Giving Thanks & Sharing the Jazz Love
Read Record Store Day Black Friday 2023: Jazz Releases
Read The Most Exciting Jazz albums since 1969: 2006-2009

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.