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Carla Bley


Alon Marcus
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One of the most consistent artists in the last 30 years. Her big band accomplishments are amazing especially in the era when these dinosaurs hardly exist.

Right now I'm enjoying very much her "Big Band Theory"

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For some strange reason this one got lame reviews. It's less pretentious than her "Escalator" and the LMO's but shows her as a composer in full power.

Also here is a previous discussion on her Social Studies

What do you think about Carla as a composer and an arranger?

Which projects she did you like and which you dislike?

Is she a worthy inheritor to the Ellington/Mingus tradition?

I am always amazed that in the modern jazz world women are so dominant in big bands leading (my favorite big bands leaders will include Maria Schneider and Toshiko Akiyoshi). What is the reason for it, what is their secret?

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Carla Bley is a wonderful writer - I agree that the Liberation Music Orchestra arrangements are sublime, rising above much of her other large ensemble projects. It might be the all-star soloists who add so much personality, plus the "concepts" that Haden brings to the table.

EOTH is a masterpiece of twentieth century music, something that I keep going back to again and again. I still don't understand everything in it, but I will continue trying.

Bley created a new approach to the large ensemble in the free jazz environment (not the only approach, but one). I do hear Ellington and Mingus in there but there are plenty of things that I hear as Carla Bley. I've studied some of her scores and transcribed other things - a beautiful writer. "Fleur Carnivore" is a nice record from 1988 - not a full big band, more LMO size.

Mike

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Live in Europe?. You may be thinking of "European Tour '77"? That one is a fave of mine too. I like how she lets Roswell run wild. He gets a lot of room on that date. Also, the medley of Patriotic songs in minor keys is very nice.

"Big Band Theory" is very nice too. In fact, I like all her larger group efforts a great deal.

EOTH....2 thumbs up. This thread will make me dig out my vinyl copy and spin it again.

I like her duo album with Steve Swallow, but I admit that at first it didn't do much for me at all. It has grown on me.

On my last trip to NY (2 years ago come July) I was fortunate to catch her band at Iridium where they performed "Looking for America" WOW! Of all current big bands, I would have to place her's at the top of my favorites.

Carla's writing is much underappreciated - Paul didn't anyway; he certainly mined her works the best he could. So many of her compositions on his early trio and duo dates...along with Annette Peacock's as well. (whatever happened to HER?)

Edited by slide_advantage_redoux
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Carla's writing is much underappreciated - Paul didn't anyway; he certainly mined her works the best he could. So many of her compositions on his early trio and duo dates...along with Annette Peacock's as well. (whatever happened to HER?)

Annette Peacock was touring Italia earlier this year.

Here is a website dedicated to her:

http://www.imtheone.net/annettepeacock/intro.html

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I have mixed views about Carla Bley. I loved seeing her live with her own band and with Charlie Haden's LMO but for some reason her recordings don't do too much for me, fine on the first listen or two then they pall very quicky. I didn't take to the very bg band at all.

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Anybody who can write a tune like "Ida Lupino" gets my eternal gratitude, just for that alone. But she's done so much more...

I like all the "usaul suspects" amongst her recordings, but I have a soft spot in my heart (some would say head...) for NIGHT-GLO. Yeah, it's got a slick veneer. Yeah, it's an overtly (if subversively so) attempt at "commercialism. Yeah, it's got a good beat and you can dance to (most) of it.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But it's got a depth of texture, a breadth of melody, and a rightness of tempo to each piece that gets me every time I listen to it. If all "commercial" music had this much quality (of all types) to it, the world would be a better place.

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...

But it's got a depth of texture, a breadth of melody, and a rightness of tempo to each piece that gets me every time I listen to it. If all "commercial" music had this much quality (of all types) to it, the world would be a better place.

That last paragraph captures some of the most important points about Carla's music, I think.

There's so much nuance in her tunes/arrangements, you can easily dismiss it as simple and too easy and yes, maybe commercial (not implying you did that, Jim!), yet each time you sit down and really listen you hear something new inside.

Her recent "Lost Chords" band at times sounds almost like a big band - I love those subtle touches and voicings!

Of her recordings I don't have all that many. The trio (Lost Chords minus Billy Drummond) made a good disc on Watt/ECM, then there are the Haden discs, of course... and there are some great live recordings rotating, too. Her duo with Steve Swallow borders the easy listening area, but at the same time their music grooves a whole lot, and again, it can sound almost orchestral, with his soft yet dry bass sound and her lush chords... And there's so much humour in both of their music! Their duos must be among the most upfront humorous instrumental music existing!

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An aside on Annette Peacock: I saw here in concert, I think in fall 2001, with the "Acrobat's Heart" (or what was the title of that CD again?) programme. Her at piano (and singing), plus a string quartet (Cicada quartet, sp?). Pretty wierd... maybe the wierdest of all concerts I ever saw, but not in a bad way. Half of the audience left, there was a bit of booing, even (rare here, people rather just leave, usually). I quite liked the music, in all its wierd oddity. Later picked up the CD, too, but I must admit it's not one that I am all that familiar with.

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There's so much nuance in her tunes/arrangements, you can easily dismiss it as simple and too easy and yes, maybe commercial (not implying you did that, Jim!),

No, not at all. It's just that there for a while in the late 70s, Carla was a "critical darling" of sorts who could do no wrong. Then she came out w/HEAVY HEART, followed by NIGHT-GLO, one of which (can't remember) had a really hilarious "radio press kit" thing where she offered excerpts from the album and talked gushy about how she was now into making romanitc music that people could snuggle up to, how she wanted lots of people to like her music now, and stuff like that. It (the spiel) was obviously completely tongue-in-cheek, but all of a sudden, the critics were scratching their heads, as if they either didn't get the joke, weren't sure if it was a joke or not, or they got it, but they didn't think that it was funny. Those albums got decidedly mixed reviews, most of them of the "why is she doing THIS?" type. Suddenly, Carla Bley was no longer the critics fave.

Well hey, whatever. Good is good, no matter, right? And I think that NIGHT-GLO is very good. If "Pretend You're In Love" sounds like it could almost be a Pat Williams-penned TV theme song, so be it. I don't care! And "Rut", well... we covered that in my BFT...

That last sentence rings uncomfortably of Leonard Feather-ism, so I'll stop. ;)

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Escalator, Tropic Appetites, Dinner Music, European Tour '77 and Social Studies are all huge favourites of mine. There's an oddball eccentricity to these discs; the arrangements are strange with a certail Kurt Weillish feel in places.

I have a number of her discs from the late 80s onwards and find them far less involving. More conventionally 'big-band' which I'm not a great fan of.

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I've still got vinyl of "European Tour 1977" and "Social Studies", but never listened to them that much. Maybe it's time to give them some serious "air time".

I recently picked up this Jack Bruce live album. It was apparently a very short-lived group and they only recently found tapes of one of the shows.

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Carla plays on it along with Mick Taylor, Bruce Gary and Ronnie Leahy.

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  • 2 years later...

Last week I picked up 3/4 on Watt and have really been enjoying it. I became curious about her music through pieces recorded by Paul Bley and Jimmy Giuffre. Sometimes her work is a bit melodramatic for my tastes but I am looking forward to exploring whatever of hers I can chase down.

I wish I was better able to put into words what attracts me to certain music, or even really understand why I like one piece of music better than another. When listening to music I really connect with, my response is more visual than anything else, sort of like an evolving abstract painting, fleeting patterns textures and colors. The ability of some people at this forum to go from music to words in mind boggling to me. I am very grateful as it has opened my ears and head to some very beautiful music I may have otherwise dismissed.

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