285

Songs With Legs: Carla Bley, Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard At Birdland, NYC

Budd Kopman By

Sign in to view read count
Carla Bley/Steve Swallow/Andy Sheppard at Birdland
Birdland
New York City, New York
April 10, 2008

The Lost Chords is the name of the quartet led by pianist Carla Bley with her partner, bassist Steve Swallow, saxophonist Andy Sheppard and drummer Billy Drummond. The group has recorded The Lost Chords (Watt, 2004) and, with the addition of Italian trumpeter Paoloa Fresu, The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (Watt, 2007). As a trio they've been performing since 1993 and recorded a live album entitled Songs With Legs (Watt, 1994)

Since that recorded music was engaging and witty while being at once light and deep, it was with extreme interest that I attended the Thursday night show, which was part of a five-night stand at Birdland.

Bley is immediately physically recognizable with her shock of blunt-cut blond hair topping a pencil-thin body. Her music is also readily recognizable with many tunes that have become modern jazz standards because of their combination of fine construction, accessibility and beauty. The other side of her music involves musical and literary wit as it constantly alludes to other music and almost anything else that piques her interest, notably puns. Superficially, the music might seem tongue-in-cheek, but underneath she wields a steely control.

On this night, the house sound was very dry and sparse, which matched the feeling of caution and care when Bley and Swallow came onto the stage. They have played together for some thirty years and, since they are both around seventy years old, a mix of wisdom and frailty filled the air.

The music was announced as new pieces by Bley (with one exception), but even so, the extent to which the music was being read, and with the employment of very careful cues, was a bit surprising. However, from the first notes of the opening work, National Anthem, a five-part suite, the peculiar musical world of Carla Bley took over the room on cat's feet.

Her writing permits direct and ready access to her world because it is built from familiar materials, and yet quirky curve balls are constantly being thrown, keeping the listener off balance. The music seems balanced on a knife edge, and part of the attraction is the resulting tension, which spices the music's deceptive, surface simplicity.

Swallow actually plays three roles in the trio: providing harmonic support, supplying rhythmic propulsion and serving as a soloist. Like a hummingbird, he flitted constantly among them, listening and reacting to what Bley was doing on the piano. Playing an acoustic-electric bass, his sound was warm and mellow yet full, with none of the flaccid thump that pure electric basses can emit.

Sheppard assumed the most "normal" role in the group as he presented the main musical ideas, soloing on them before passing them on, although he occasionally added harmonic support and comments when Bley or Swallow were playing. His sound on tenor and soprano saxophone matched the music's personality, but then again, who influenced what in which way was open for discussion, since Sheppard's wit matched Bley's.

The closing tune was Bley's version of Thelonious Monk's angular blues "Mysterioso," which appeared on Songs With Legs and aptly sums up her aesthetic. Like Bley, Monk works with simple materials, juxtaposing, twisting and stretching them into new configurations. Thus, we heard music that was doubly twisted, and it was delightful.

The music of Bley, Swallow and Sheppard might be considered an acquired taste, but once tasted, there is much more than first meets the ear.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Newport Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Newport Jazz Festival 2017
by Timothy J. O'Keefe
Published: August 18, 2017
Read FORQ at The World Cafe Live Live Reviews FORQ at The World Cafe Live
by Mike Jacobs
Published: August 18, 2017
Read Mat Maneri and Tanya Kalmanovitch at Korzo Live Reviews Mat Maneri and Tanya Kalmanovitch at Korzo
by Tyran Grillo
Published: August 18, 2017
Read Kongsberg Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Kongsberg Jazz Festival 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: August 17, 2017
Read Arturo Sandoval At Yoshi's Oakland Live Reviews Arturo Sandoval At Yoshi's Oakland
by Walter Atkins
Published: August 17, 2017
Read Jazz em Agosto 2017 Live Reviews Jazz em Agosto 2017
by Mike Chamberlain
Published: August 16, 2017
Read "Anat Cohen at Davidson College" Live Reviews Anat Cohen at Davidson College
by Perry Tannenbaum
Published: April 27, 2017
Read "The Billy Hart Quartet at the 21c Museum Hotel" Live Reviews The Billy Hart Quartet at the 21c Museum Hotel
by Joseph Boselovic
Published: September 28, 2016
Read "Hyde Park Jazz Festival 2016" Live Reviews Hyde Park Jazz Festival 2016
by Mark Corroto
Published: October 4, 2016
Read "Mike Zito at the Iridium" Live Reviews Mike Zito at the Iridium
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: June 24, 2017

Sponsor: JANA PROJECT | LEARN MORE  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.