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Brad

Carla Bley in the New Yorker

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Thanks for putting this up.

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Thanks, excellent reading!

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one thing I find a bit strange about her writing - and I like some of her compositions and her piano playing - is how little harmonic tension there is in her orchestrations, at least the ones she wrote after the 1960s. Given the musical environment from which she comes - that '60s, ESP ethos - I find her writing shockingly conventional. Even the Liberation Music Orchestra - just too.....oddly conventional.

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Posted (edited)

4 hours ago, AllenLowe said:

one thing I find a bit strange about her writing - and I like some of her compositions and her piano playing - is how little harmonic tension there is in her orchestrations, at least the ones she wrote after the 1960s. Given the musical environment from which she comes - that '60s, ESP ethos - I find her writing shockingly conventional. Even the Liberation Music Orchestra - just too.....oddly conventional.

Wouldn't you say this was pretty common among a lot of 60s radicals (musical and otherwise) - they mellowed out a lot in subsequent decades.  Or are you arguing that Carla's mellowing happened faster & more rapidly than her peers?

Edited by Guy Berger

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well, I don't know. Very few of that generation wrote for large groups. Hemphill (who was later of course) wrote in a very loose-jointed way, and some of the things I have heard of Shepp have a nice mix of organization with chaos. Braxton (also later) was wonderful on the Arista big-group stuff, he really found a way to combine techniques. And Some of Gil Evans' later things are nicely integrated; George Russell too. So I don't know. I just find her orchestral work to be surprisingly dull.

ok article, by the way, but if one more writer uses the words 'deconstruct' or 'deconstructed' in the usual incorrect manner, I may have a fit. Iverson does this early on. The word(s) have nothing to do with changing and re-constituting forms, as is usually assumed.

and this bugs the crap out of me: "Bley’s harmonic palette is generally simpler and leaner than most advanced jazz harmony. In addition to the Beatles, Bley told me about loving American music like bluegrass and gospel. For an avant-garde composer, rock, bluegrass, and gospel are easy meat when making a mash-up. Any melody or gesture will work against these triadic textures, just like Charles Ives sending a cheerful marching band through a dissonant symphony."

utter crap, if you know anything about these forms, and typical of jazz snobbery (and he does not even realize he is being a snob).

 

Edited by AllenLowe

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I don't disagree -- think her small group works of the late 50s/early to mid 60s are the most intriguing. Then again, I've seen the orchestra live (recently) and enjoyed it very much, so... that's the most important thing, I guess.

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14 hours ago, AllenLowe said:

well, I don't know. Very few of that generation wrote for large groups. Hemphill (who was later of course) wrote in a very loose-jointed way, and some of the things I have heard of Shepp have a nice mix of organization with chaos. Braxton (also later) was wonderful on the Arista big-group stuff, he really found a way to combine techniques. And Some of Gil Evans' later things are nicely integrated; George Russell too. So I don't know. I just find her orchestral work to be surprisingly dull.

I was thinking of soloists, actually - folks like Pharoah Sanders who were uber-radical in the mid-60s but were already mellowing out by the late 60s and are now comfortably ensconced as straight-ahead players.  I realize that might not be a great analogy.

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well, even straight-ahead players can have that edge. It is sometimes a bit disconcerting when they start to settle down.

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I like her harmonic sense. It's somewhat "Puritanical", which I find a very effective element of her overall esthetic. I like how it's not A Radical Screaming At The Puritans, It's An Evolved Puritan Screaming AT The Unevolved Puritans,

Her Christmas album has gotten played every year since it's release here. There's some nifty harmonic stuff happening there, for sure.

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20 hours ago, JSngry said:

I like her harmonic sense. It's somewhat "Puritanical", which I find a very effective element of her overall esthetic. I like how it's not A Radical Screaming At The Puritans, It's An Evolved Puritan Screaming AT The Unevolved Puritans,

 

Nicely put.

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This is the only performance of hers I've ever really loved, and I think it's the performance not the writing.  Liked plenty of others, including others doing her tunes but Escalator and Tong Funeral remind me of the kind of crap people would babble on about when they were high in college.

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but her harmonic conservatism doesn't come off as any real contrast to the others; it's just conservatism and, like that piece just above, it's dull; sounds like road-company Weil.

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That piece above is not her's, it's Nino Roto. I think as such, "road-company Weil" is a context-specific mission accomplished.

I love her "smooth jazz" (so-called. and that's another point of critical ignorance/condescension, I mean it never stops, does it?) records. I recall an interview with her and Swallow around the time of Night-Glo, and they were really borderline obsessing about Marvin Gaye, his phrasing in particular, and I'm sure, most people were thinking about the 60s hits (because that's all they WOULD bother to think about), but no, they were getting the mid-70s stuff, a lot of which wasn't really commercially successful and was also chock full of a very unique genius being realized. So yeah, there was a lot of "is she serious with this shit?", and i get that, sorta/unfortunately, but i think the answer to that has to be hell yes, she was serious. With that in mind, Night-Glo is like a Carla Bley-produced Marvin Gaye album with Steve Swallow as Marvin Gaye. I know that's not going to be something everybody has a taste for, but me, I love it. Never mind who else would think about it. Who else could do it the way it should be done?

 

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I guess we're disrespecting a "legend". I don't like it ( the disrespect). 

Edited by jlhoots

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I mean, how is this not a lost Leon Ware song?

Points of reference are what determine perception, no?

 

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On 5/17/2018 at 5:14 PM, AllenLowe said:

well, I don't know. Very few of that generation wrote for large groups. Hemphill (who was later of course) wrote in a very loose-jointed way, and some of the things I have heard of Shepp have a nice mix of organization with chaos. Braxton (also later) was wonderful on the Arista big-group stuff, he really found a way to combine techniques. And Some of Gil Evans' later things are nicely integrated; George Russell too. So I don't know. I just find her orchestral work to be surprisingly dull.

ok article, by the way, but if one more writer uses the words 'deconstruct' or 'deconstructed' in the usual incorrect manner, I may have a fit. Iverson does this early on. The word(s) have nothing to do with changing and re-constituting forms, as is usually assumed.

and this bugs the crap out of me: "Bley’s harmonic palette is generally simpler and leaner than most advanced jazz harmony. In addition to the Beatles, Bley told me about loving American music like bluegrass and gospel. For an avant-garde composer, rock, bluegrass, and gospel are easy meat when making a mash-up. Any melody or gesture will work against these triadic textures, just like Charles Ives sending a cheerful marching band through a dissonant symphony."

utter crap, if you know anything about these forms, and typical of jazz snobbery (and he does not even realize he is being a snob).

 

Un-lurking because I was unpacking this while doing dishes this morning. I actually really enjoyed the Iverson piece, if only because there's so little discussion of Bley as a figure inside of new/avant-garde jazz. I only ever see her discussed as a pure iconoclast and something apart from that historical movement, and I know that there were some tensions therein (as referenced in an article I read a while back, where she spoke dismissively of Brotzmann and co.). 

In terms of the quote above ("...easy meat when making a mash-up"), I think it's worth noting that the critical narrative, especially insofar as concerns a guy like Iverson, is a work in progress. Iverson has gone from poster boy for populist postmodernism to mediator between contemporary composition and jazz formalism--a tension that was always evident in the Bad Plus, as far as I can tell--and there needn't be any more reality or utility to this kind of reductionist talk (vis-a-vis "triadic structures) than is relevant to the narrative the writer is trying to put forward. And I say this as someone who agrees in a pretty fundamental way with what you (Allen) say. 

In other words, I'm ok with the editorializing in this instance not because it's "true," but because the picture it is painting says something relevant (if not necessarily useful) about the world that both Iverson and Bley inhabit. Of course things like rock, bluegrass, gospel etc. are more complex and nuanced than Iverson says--but not here, and not in this way. Listen to the Threadgill Sextett, for example, for something that engages equally with social musics and Euro and American classical traditions in a meaningful way. That shit is complex--but it operates within a sound world and conceptual framework that is just alien imagination to someone like Bley--and that's maybe kind of the rub.

I adore the first Liberation Music Orchestra and mostly like the others. I think Escalator Over the Hill is a mess that touches greatness more often than it doesn't, and I can give or take a lot of the later music--but Iverson does make one really specific and good point. The brutal, often ironic, cabaret-like color of Bley's music really, really works when there are individualistic voices in the band--and I like the connection to Ayler that Bley brings up partway through. The first LMO album is supposed to be this series of ambling Spanish strains that teeters between chaos and unity--in a metatextual, overtly revolutionary way--and it works because of the disharmony between the players and the material. This type of thing isn't always what the doctor orders--and it can be absolutely desultory when both the music and the underlying programmatic content have nothing to say--but that concept in the hands of Barbieri, Cherry, Haden, Motian, etc. is sublime art. 

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"I don't care if you like it or not. I like it."

Edited by Mark Stryker

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She doesn't even try to be "hip". She's like the anti-Bob Dorough!

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1 hour ago, Mark Stryker said:

"I don't care if you like it or not. I like it."

As a brief aside, I find it interesting that, oftentimes, the people most inclined to say things like "we don't need an audience" are either (a) artists who've already been outright rejected by a broader listener base or (b) people who've been blessed with an exceptional number of opportunities and a great deal of appreciation, striving/hard work/hustle aside. Irony aside, too, of course.

As for the basic sentiment of "I don't care if you like it or not," I feel like that's kind of how it should be, especially with regard to intrinsically non or uncommercial music. Appreciate it for what it is rather than what it isn't or can't be.

I do find something appropriationist about some of the quiet storm/smooth jazz stuff that Jim links to here, and I don't invoke that word with the intent of inflaming factionalist sentiment--I think it just is what it is. And I feel this way about a lot of Bley's music--the number of records or projects that feel like they claim a specific conceptual identity, rather than just a general impression of eclecticism or series of habits in the way of arrangement, are few. Tropic Appetites maybe? But, again, I don't think it really matters here. Not to go off on too much of a tangent, but the contrast with Threadgill is pretty extreme--when he interfaces with R&B, blues, soul, etc.--it feels vivid and personal, like a part of the genetics; Bley always seems to me like she's vacationing in the genres she toys with. The politics of this are one thing, but the music is another, and I actually come out of it on the positive side of things. In a world that has a deep-set deficit in the way of treating women with a nuance, reality, and inclusiveness, I like that Bley comes out of it with her own kind of story.

To go back a bit on what I just said, and talking about Bley as a musical identity rather than just some kind of abstract figure, I don't think the successes of something like Escalator can be understated--not just in the way of this doom-y, fun house mirror-type big band arrangement, but in the consideration and subtlety behind the genre play.

I've said here and elsewhere that the post-Cream work of Jack Bruce is some of the very best and most inventive of its kind, and both Michael Mantler and Bley know how to use his talents--not just in the way of utility voice or bass but also with regard to the implications of using a genre superstar in something as heterogeneous as EscalatorEscalator pushes Bruce's voice to its absolute limits, and the things that he's often criticized for in rock circles--the overbearing operaticism married to "proper" vocal technique, the frequent flatness--enhance the notion that this project is both a reversal of the rock opera (classical musicians playing at rock, rather than the other way around) and a kind of faux, not-to-be-taken-seriously work of art music. 

I can't find a link to an actual recording of the song on youtube, but the segue from Bruce's agonized vocals to the kind of junky sounding "blues rock jam"--featuring half of Lifetime, by the way, plus Paul Motian and Bley--is the kind of heightened irony--but sublime musicality--that I have all day for. I am 100% in support of that kind of shit. 

 

Edited by ep1str0phy

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"I don't think the successes of something like Escalator can be understated--not just in the way of this doom-y, fun house mirror-type big band arrangement, but in the consideration and subtlety behind the genre play"  

I think this says the exact opposite of what you meant it to say, not unlike Carla's work sometimes?, and, like Allen's inability to get 'then' and 'than' straight, it makes the rest of what you say hard to take seriously.  But whatever Carla's doing, I wouldn't call it dull, even when it's not of interest to me.

 

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8 minutes ago, danasgoodstuff said:

"I don't think the successes of something like Escalator can be understated--not just in the way of this doom-y, fun house mirror-type big band arrangement, but in the consideration and subtlety behind the genre play"  

I think this says the exact opposite of what you meant it to say, not unlike Carla's work sometimes?, and, like Allen's inability to get 'then' and 'than' straight, it makes the rest of what you say hard to take seriously.  But whatever Carla's doing, I wouldn't call it dull, even when it's not of interest to me.

 

I admit my sentiments above aren't the most carefully worded, so let me put it another way--I don't think there's any mutual exclusivity between the practice of vacationing in genres and the notion of being a careful, or even artful, curator of said genres. I seldom get the sense that Carla has an intimate relationship with much the music she is arranging--at worst it's just well-crafted pastiche, and even at it's best there's often a kind of remove that I have a hard time listening past--but I concede that there's often an awareness there. 

As with "Rawalpindi Blues"--the text is mostly inscrutable, as I'm assuming was Haines's intent, and the vague world music elements are, as I said, kind of hammily done and not very deeply engaged. That blues rock section--which I love--is kind of ersatz Lifetime. It does feel kind of dilettante-ish, but I sense that this is exactly the point--that the Don Cherry that appears on Escalator, for example, is not the same Don Cherry from Eternal Now, but rather a reference to or impression of him. I'd invoke "postmodernism" in the truest sense but I also think that the reality is slightly more mundane than that--that things like Escalator are more about the task and practice of colliding things together rather than doing any of those things, individually, particularly well. 

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15 minutes ago, ep1str0phy said:

I admit my sentiments above aren't the most carefully worded, so let me put it another way--I don't think there's any mutual exclusivity between the practice of vacationing in genres and the notion of being a careful, or even artful, curator of said genres. I seldom get the sense that Carla has an intimate relationship with much the music she is arranging--at worst it's just well-crafted pastiche, and even at it's best there's often a kind of remove that I have a hard time listening past--but I concede that there's often an awareness there. 

As with "Rawalpindi Blues"--the text is mostly inscrutable, as I'm assuming was Haines's intent, and the vague world music elements are, as I said, kind of hammily done and not very deeply engaged. That blues rock section--which I love--is kind of ersatz Lifetime. It does feel kind of dilettante-ish, but I sense that this is exactly the point--that the Don Cherry that appears on Escalator, for example, is not the same Don Cherry from Eternal Now, but rather a reference to or impression of him. I'd invoke "postmodernism" in the truest sense but I also think that the reality is slightly more mundane than that--that things like Escalator are more about the task and practice of colliding things together rather than doing any of those things, individually, particularly well. 

Thanks for the nice, calm reply; that may well be what she's doing, I just find it more problematic than you.  If I was a serious fan of circus/carnival music (I'm sure there are some) I'd probably find what I posted above less satisfying.

 

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I know EOTH and GTF (both on LP). I don't get GTF. EOTH - I do think it has stuff in it, but I feel I'm being strong-armed into treating it as "major statement" - The whole thing about triple LP, box set. 

Edited by Simon Weil

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