A Saturnine Album From One of the Most Distinctive Pianists in the History of Jazz…and Everything Else
Carla Bley hardly needs a shout from this blog; she’s been one of the most instantly recognizable pianists of the past half-century and more. And she’s no less vital now. Her latest trio album Life Goes On – the third in a series – is streaming at Spotify. It comprises three suites: two triptychs and one in four parts. In keeping with Bley’s increasingly finely honed melodicism of recent years, if you’re looking for epic sweep and deviously manic improvisation, you should start with her 1970 magnum opus Escalator Over the Hill.
This album’s title suite begins with a terse, slowly swinging minor-key blues where Bley eventually leaves the terse lows where she’s been hanging out and drops out altogether as saxophonist Andy Sheppard solos hazily but lyrically over bassist Steve Swallow’s similarly low-key prowl. The second part is more saturnine, Swallow tiptoeing over her regal, spacious chords which eventually extend into more wary, bracing territory. The trio pick up the pace in the more cosmopolitanly swinging, subtly carnivalesque, Monkish third section and close with a similar, moodily syncopated stroll, Swallow contributing pointillistic melody overhead, Sheppard floating more lightheartedly.
The first of the triptychs is the gorgeously haunting Beautiful Telephones, beginning with brooding, grimly incisive, modal piano and bass, picking up somewhat as Sheppard shoots for bringing an irrepressible cheer to the persistently troubled sway. They wind it up with a more enigmatic but ultimately macabre stroll anchored by Swallow’s fat low end.
The closing partita, Copycat begins as a rather stern, boleroesque march, Swallow again working incisively in the highs over Bley’s moody chords. It becomes more of a Monk homage as the trio work a series of knowing exchanges, Sheppard’s flute-like leaps contrasting with Swallow’s steady, chugging pulse and the bandleader’s increasingly tropical phrasing. What will this icon come up with next?