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Carla Bley: Life Goes On

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist / composer Carla Bley is an inspiring woman. Pianist Paul Bley was inspired to marry her, and record a full album of her compositions: Barrage (ESP-Disk, 1965), in addition to including four of her originals on Open, To Love (ECM Records, 1973). George Russell included her "Bent Eagle" on his Stratusfunk (Riverside Records, 1960). Jimmy Giuffre presented his version of her "Ictus" on his album Thesis (Verve, 1961). And if these examples date the influence of Carla Bley, consider Finnish pianist Iro Haarla's Around Again: The Music Of Carla Bley (TUM Records, 2019), often cited as a top album of the year.

It is said of Carla Bley that she considers herself one percent pianist, ninety-nine percent composer. Even taking at her word, she has still, through the first two decades of the twentieth-first century, maintained a successful career as a pianist /composer / bandleader, with album releases like Andando El Tiempo (ECM Records, 2014) and Trios (ECM Records, 2013), Carla's Christmas Carols (Watt, 2009), Carla Bley And Her Remarkable Big Band (Watt, 2008), The Lost Chords Find Paulo Fresu (Watt, 2007) and many more. Not bad for a one percent pianist.

Life Goes On is the third in a sequence of albums that began with the previously mentioned Trios, followed up by Andando El Tiempo (also previously cited). All three feature Bley on piano with her long standing trio mates—bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard. The compositions presented here—all from Bley's pen—are spare and without frills—nothing fancy about them. They are spacious and seemingly simple, coming out of a lifetime of musical expression. And they are simply beautiful.

The music takes the form of three suites, beginning with the four-part title suite. Written while Bley was recovering from illness, the music has an optimistic, even at times a whimsical feel to it—a measured and wise whimsey drawn from eight decades of living. The "Beautiful Telephones" suite, in three parts, was inspired by a quote from a certain President of the United States. The sound is sorrowful and, shot through with resilience—a necessity in dealing with the man who noted the beautiful telephones—and it changes with the vagaries of the moment, like the attention span of the protagonist.

The three part "Copycat" suite closes the disc. The opening section, "After You," is melancholic yet serene, a conversation amongst the instrumentalists. Part two, the brief "Follow The Leader," is jaunty and full of vigor, the closing "Copycat" section features the players chasing each other around, in the best of humor, on this excellent work of chamber jazz from Carla Bley.

Track Listing: Life Goes On: Life Goes On; On; And On. Beautiful Telephones: I, II, III; Copycat: After You; Follow The Leader; Copycat.

Personnel: Carla Bley: piano, composition; Andy Sheppard: saxophone; Steve Swallow: electric bass.

Title: Life Goes On | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: ECM Records

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