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After decades of illuminating and revealing work, reveling in and breaking free of shadows, it is those same shadows that still inspire and inform Carla Bley. Which perhaps explains why the title track of Life Goes On rolls in on the 12-bar like a music obsessed, post-bop cigarette girl absorbing Count Basie at Birdland in the 1950s. So let's take a brief moment to be thankful for the odd, out of time quirks that have brought us to this same strange moment while still being able to rejoice in Bley's skillfully subversive storytelling.
Recorded in the grand chamber that is Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano, but exercised vigorously across stages in Europe and America, Life Goes On has the feel of an oft-told oral history whose wily narrator isn't shy to embellish or lay bare. As has been the decades long template, bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard tell their tales while interpreting Bley's, allowing the vaguest remembrance to play as strong a part in the drama as the most defining moments.
Built in three Charlie Chaplin-esque, Thelonious Monk-like, Erik Satie-inspired suites, "Life Goes On," "Beautiful Telephones," and "Copycat" each capture more light than their immediate predecessor in compositional flavor and optimism. Credit that to the trio's uncommon embroidery, since each is a lead voice more than willing to immerse itself into the other's story to compliment the whole. Swallow, the epitome of fluency, is particularly slippery yet center holding, while Sheppard increasingly voices Bley's concerns with an agile breathiness that warrants its own solo track. Bley plays cat and mouse, quotes "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Yankee Doodle" and holds our attention as few others can.
Life Goes On: Life Goes On; On; And On. Beautiful Telephones: I, II, III;
Copycat: After You; Follow The Leader; Copycat.