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Carla Bley in the New Yorker

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On 5/19/2018 at 7:20 PM, ep1str0phy said:

...the contrast with Threadgill is pretty extreme...

 I mean, seriously? Ya' think? Etc?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carla_Bley

Bley was born in Oakland, California to Emil Borg (1899-1990), a piano teacher and church choirmaster, who encouraged her to sing and to learn to play the piano, and Arline Anderson (1907-1944), who died when Bley was 8 years old. After giving up the church to immerse herself in roller skating at the age of fourteen,[1] she moved to New York at seventeen and became a cigarette girl at Birdland, where she met jazz pianist Paul Bley.

I'm thinking that I hear all of that in her music, and there's plenty of it that I'm indifferent to, but in none of it do I not hear that.

God bless the Evolved Puritans. Roller skates can take you places.

 

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On 5/19/2018 at 6:48 PM, danasgoodstuff said:

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.

 

C'mon man, I'm only on the internet for the violent antagonism. ;)

With regard to what Jim says--keep in mind I'm not dumping on Bley so much as trying to articulate a kind of ambivalence I have toward much of her work. The comparison with Threadgill is is meant to underline how two people who can and do use similar source materials wind up on completely different sides of reality. The socio-politics of this are one thing, and the musical content is something else entirely. When Threadgill interfaces with idiomatic blues tropes, you get "I Can't Wait Till I Get Home":

When Carla Bley does, you get this:

In all fairness, there's a lot of harmonic meat in the second example that might be considered archetypal Bley (that nebulous-sounding descending octave line in the horns, for one). And the Threadgill example is and isn't paradigmatic Threadgill, since it's less inflected than a lot of the Sextett stuff. But--and this is important, at least to me--there's a kind of stiltedness when Bley mixes into the 6/8 thing that is just impossible to ignore. The solos are relentlessly professional, the harmonies perfectly balanced and articulated, the timekeeping precise and unobtrusive. When working with more recalcitrant players--like a Motian or Andrew Cyrille--the edges start showing, but it's almost in spite of the charts rather than because of them. 

I think it's up for debate whether these issues are merely a matter of choosing the "right" sidemen or something intrinsic to the music itself. And maybe I was wrong to imply that Bley's approach is somehow less personal, but I do maintain that there's an overriding dispassion and distance in so much of Bley's work that the remove begins to feel like a decision rather than an accident. I always feel like Threadgill is being real with the audience and the performance; Bley, much less so. 

 

Edited by ep1str0phy

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8 hours ago, ep1str0phy said:

 I always feel like Threadgill is being real with the audience and the performance; Bley, much less so.

Real? In what sense? I really don't get that. I've never heard a Carla Bley record where it sounds like she's not aware of what choices she's making, the reasons seh'd making them, and what it means that she's making them. How can you get more real than that? The interviews over the decades are just as much like that as are the records. Carla Bley brings Carla Bley to the table, nobody else. Now sure, Carly Bley is capable of arch irony, playful and deadly at the same time, and I get that hipsters have killed irony for the masses, but it wasn't always so. And I get that a roller skating Nordic-American church girl probably starts life in the teenage jazz cigarette girl world with more than a little, shall we say..."distancing" in the pump for the road trip ahead, but geez, what's not real about any of that?

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13 hours ago, JSngry said:

Real? In what sense? I really don't get that. I've never heard a Carla Bley record where it sounds like she's not aware of what choices she's making, the reasons seh'd making them, and what it means that she's making them. How can you get more real than that? The interviews over the decades are just as much like that as are the records. Carla Bley brings Carla Bley to the table, nobody else. Now sure, Carly Bley is capable of arch irony, playful and deadly at the same time, and I get that hipsters have killed irony for the masses, but it wasn't always so. And I get that a roller skating Nordic-American church girl probably starts life in the teenage jazz cigarette girl world with more than a little, shall we say..."distancing" in the pump for the road trip ahead, but geez, what's not real about any of that?

"Real" in that I seldom feel like she's tackling the musical content--with its contextual implications, the technical possibilities inherent in the material, the broader narrative of whatever culture on genre she's plugging into--on its own terms. Keep in mind I don't feel as if she's under any obligation to do so, and I should also state that I feel as if Bley is a great artist in her own right--but as I (kind of) said above, I feel as if her genius resides in concept play and curation of genres rather than engaging with those genres in any really profound way. 

My assumption is that "Very Very Simple" is meant to serve as a counterexample to "Two Banana," since it's the same kind of blues shuffle feel and it's a lot less buttoned down. I think it actually reinforces my core point--the band is playing pretty mundane stuff, with the exception of Valente's solo (which is it's own kind of mannered, to be fair--but what isn't, and that's splitting hairs). The music is basically just a prop for some irony and clever concept work. It's 100% Carla Bley, which is why I agree that it's unfair to say that her music is any less personal than anyone else's--but I also think that it's so disengaged from the base materials of the music that it has to have been by design.

I think it's telling that Bley says what she does about D Sharpe in Iverson's article: “I just loved him at first sight and first sound. He was from the rock and roll world. D. Sharpe dressed really great. He had a cool demeanor about him. He looked so different. I liked him the way he was physically. Then, he would use two loaves of Italian bread or something to take a solo. He had a good sense of humor. I thought he had a nice groove, too.” It's very personal stuff--about vibe and appearance, and a little bit about Sharpe's musical piquancy. One would assume that these are many of the things that are most meaningful to her about that relationship--and it's little about what Sharpe actually plays. Maybe she'd go into more detail in another context, who knows. But, again, I don't think CB is under any obligation to do so, and that's not a knock.

And lest it go unsaid, I wouldn't knock anyone for being, as you say, "a roller skating Nordic-American church girl." And that's definitely a part of her aesthetic ethos. And again--again--I say this as someone who really admires a lot of Carla's work and loves, on a profound level, a significant amount of that work. 

I do have some personal (which are consequentially musical) reservations about how she handles music that lies outside of her purview. There is actually a much denser conversation here that I willingly open myself up to--but which I will say up front I am not totally equipped to unpack--about race and perception. There is a lot to dissect about the phrase, "Just as it was, I thought free jazz needed work"--and that enters the realm where personal reservations veer into issues of identity and ideology and axes to grind. 

Edited by ep1str0phy

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Yeah, well, I think she's being - has always been - true to herself, and really that's the real reason anybody plays, right? Because they feel that something needs work, if only themselves. Not all great music comes from "within" any particular/specific world, some of it comes from observations in, around, and about that world. Bley is, I believe, somebody who does that, and she's been pretty damn good at it along the way.

Besides, she understands the visual a lot more than most jazz musicians have. Her comments about D. Sharpe, her album covers, her promo shots, she's fully aware of what all that means. To that end, I'm moved by how shrunken and "frail" she's gotten with age.

And yet she persists.

 

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