Carla Bley / Andy Sheppard / Steve Swallow: Life Goes On

Karl Ackermann By

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Coming off a recent illness, the legendary composer-pianist Carla Bley has her sense of humor and political instincts intact on Life Goes On. The trio album with saxophonist Andy Sheppard and bassist Steve Swallow completes a trilogy which began with Trios in 2013 but the three have been recording together since 1994 with their first album Songs With Legs (WATT/ECM, 1995). In a 2019 interview with German magazine Kaput Bley spoke about the synergy that makes her trio work so well. Bley referred to over fifty years of knowing Swallow and his musical approach, adding that Sheppard's role "is crucial, as his playing defines our message. My pen is my voice—Andy speaks through his saxophones."

The ten compositions on Life Goes On—all written by Bley—are divided among three individually themed suites. The title track, a pensive blues piece, is a highlight of the album; dark at first, it slowly unfolds, more assured and elegant. The three-part suite "Beautiful Telephones" is motivated by an obtuse comment made by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Each section features a different trio member, beginning with Swallow, then Sheppard, and finally, Bley. The pieces are rather tranquil considering the veiled political inspiration. The final suite, "Copycat" is the edgiest of the material, with the dissonant nuances of "Copycat III" successfully enacting what Bley calls the trio's "finishing each other's sentences."

Life Goes On was recorded in Switzerland at the Auditorio Stelio Molo. It is not a starkly surprising entry from Bley, Swallow and Sheppard but it has its share of unanticipated turns. The trio drop just enough sharpened points into the expansive architecture of the melodies. There is impulsiveness in these suites which makes each engrossing listening. Life Goes On is a showcase for three veterans who continue to be remarkably fresh and relevant.

Track Listing

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


Carla Bley: piano; Andy Sheppard: saxophone; Steve Swallow: bass.

Album information

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



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