Today is Carla Bley’s 80th birthday, and to help us all celebrate ECM has released a companion piece to 2013’s Trios. Both were recorded at a studio in Lugano with Manfred Eicher producing, both feature Bley on piano, Steve Swallow on electric bass guitar and Andy Sheppard on saxophones, but while the April 2013 session was an opportunity for the trio to explore again older Bley tunes like Utviklingssang and The Girl Who Cried Champagne, for the November 2015 recording the pianist chose new compositions.
The opener is the three-part title piece dealing with a friend’s recovery from addiction, the three sections covering, in Bley’s words: “the realisation that the endless cycle of medication required to stay free from anxiety and pain is insufferable” (Sin Fin), “the ongoing sorrow felt by everyone affected” (Potación de Guaya) and “the returning to a healthy and sustainable life” (Camino al Volver).
As I listened to it I was reminded of Stanley Spencer’s extraordinary paintings in the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere. The subject of Spencer’s paintings is the First World War but he chooses to concentrate upon less obvious, more mundane scenes from military life – changing bed linen or filling tea urns. In similar fashion Bley’s music deals not with the main drama of addiction – the volatility, the cravings, the hightest highs and the deepest lows, but instead reflects in her writing – expanded upon by the players – the ongoing, underlying, dulled pains of the protagonist, the aches of their supporters. And, just as Spencer’s Chapel is crowned by the vision of heaven with all the white crosses piling up as the dead soldiers are reborn, so Camino al Volver has an optimism and resolution expressed with Bley’s characteristic concision of expression and light touch.
The remaining two pieces are no less life-affirming. Saints Alive! (Bley explains the title as “an expression used by old ladies… when they exchanged especially juicy gossip”) begins with a slightly austere sequence of piano chords, but as Swallow takes the melody line the mood becomes gentler and the easy-going flow of conversation is established. It’s a prime example of the flowing eloquence of the 75-year-old with the unmistakeable bass sound. Naked Bridges/Diving Brides takes its title from a Paul Haines poem and was written by Bley as a wedding present for Sheppard and his bride. Bley weaves her own take on Mendelssohn’s wedding march into her characteristically witty jazz waltz.
All three players have a lot of room for personal expression but the strength of Bley’s writing and the deep understanding between them means that it all sounds remarkably cohesive, a multi-stranded, unified, gently unwinding vision, a wry smile always lurking even in the most melancholic music.
An exquisite album. Happy birthday, Carla!
- The trio will be at Ronnie Scott’s in London for one night on 17 July. For more information and to book tickets go HERE.
Categories: CD review