CARLA BLEY, ANDY SHEPPARD, STEVE SWALLOW – ANDANDO EL TIEMPO /
ECM 2487 VIDEO
In time for Carla Bley’s 80th birthday on May 11, here is a new album by her outstanding trio with Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow. This particular trio, in existence now for more than twenty years, has come to be the primary vehicle for conveying her compositions to the world. It’s a challenging task: “When I write for the trio,” Carla explained to the Detroit Metro-Times recently, “it’s really big band music reduced. I have to play way over my head and so do the guys. They have to take on a lot more than they would if I still had a big band.”
For listeners, one of the great pleasures of Carla’s small group work is hearing more of her unique piano playing. Where she once insisted that she was “one per cent player and ninety-nine per cent composer,” she allows that in recent years the player has been obliged to gain ground, inspired by the examples of Sheppard and Swallow. The subtle interaction of the players is well-served by the clarity of this new recording, and all three of them shine here – Carla with her spare, thoughtful playing, Swallow with his perfectly poised and elegant electric bass, Sheppard with his poignant saxophones.
A special event in its own right, Andando el Tiempo can also be considered a companion volume to 2013’s Trios album, described by All About Jazz as “the most perfect of chamber records, filled with shrewd surprises and a delicate dramaturgy that reveals itself further with each and every listen.” Trios marked the first occasion on which the independently-minded Bley had worked under the direction of a recording producer, and Manfred Eicher, Carla, Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard returned to Lugano’s RSI Studio in November 2015 for the new recording. Where Trios revisited older pieces, Andando el Tiempo features all new music of wide emotional compass, and underlines Bley’s undimmed originality and resourcefulness as a jazz composer.
The powerful three-part title composition – which addresses the trials and tribulations of recovery from addiction – moves through sorrow to hopefulness and joy. “It was written as I watched a friend go through the condition and come out the other end,” writes Carla in the liner notes. “‘Sin Fin’ is the realization that the endless cycle of medication required to stay free from anxiety and pain is becoming insufferable. ‘Potación de Guaya’ is the ongoing sorrow felt by everyone affected. ‘Camino al Volver’ is the work of returning to a healthy and sustainable life...”
“Saints Alive!” (“an expression used by old ladies sitting on the porch in the cool of the evening when they exchanged especially juicy gossip”) sets up some animated conversations, with striking statements from Steve Swallow’s bass guitar and Andy Sheppard’s soprano sax. The stately “Naked Bridges/Diving Brides”, written as a wedding gift for Sheppard and his wife Sara , draws influence from Mendelssohn and the poetry of Paul Haines, Carla’s librettist for earlier works including Escalator Over The Hill and Tropic Appetites. (The piece’s title, in fact, derives from Haines’ poem “Peking Widow”: From naked bridges / Diving brides relax / In freefall fistfuls / Of sparkling albumen.)
“I’m like a slow sponge, I take in ideas from everywhere, and when I eventually find my notes, I know they’re the right ones.”
Carla Bley once attributed her originality as a composer to blissful ignorance of “right” and “wrong” ways to write a song. Early role models included Thelonious Monk, Erik Satie and Miles Davis, all of whom achieved much with few notes. However, Bley’s oeuvre also includes maximalist pieces such as the epic “chronotransduction” Escalator over the Hill, an album of Fancy Chamber Music, and many spirited pieces for bands of all sizes. Critic Nat Hentoff once wrote that her scores “are matched only by those of Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus for yearning lyricism, explosive exultation and other expressions of the human condition”.
For forty years Bley documented her music on WATT, the ECM-distributed label she co-founded with Michael Mantler and today runs with Steve Swallow. Trios (2013) marked Carla Bley’s first recording for ECM itself. Further recordings for ECM are in preparation.
Among the many awards bestowed upon Carla Bley are a Guggenheim Fellowship for music composition (1972), the German Jazz Trophy "A Life for Jazz" (2009), and honorary doctorates from l’Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail (2012) and the New England Conservatory (2014). In 2015 she received an NEA Jazz Master Award: “I can think of many musicians who deserve this award, and won't be getting it,” she commented. “Luckily, I'm not one of them."
Carla Bley’s 80th birthday will be celebrated at New York’s new Steinway Hall on May 11, where Carla, Steve and Andy will perform together and take part in a question-and-answer session with the public. On June 2 and 3 festivities move to Germany, where Carla and Steve join the NDR Big Band and Boys Choir to present La Leçon Française at Hamburg’s Rolf-Liebermann-Studio. In July, the Bley/Sheppard/Swallow trio is on the road Europe with concerts in Thionville, France (July 9), Warsaw, Poland (July 13), Amsterdam, Netherlands (July 15), London, England (July 17), Nora, Sardinia (July 20), Bologna, Italy (July 21), and Stresa, Italy (July 22).