Pardon me while I plug some Desert Island music this weekend – Carla Bley has been a favorite in all her various endeavors for quite some time now. As composer, pianist and bandleader she’s dipped her musical brush in a galaxy of colors and come up with an astonishing rainbow. She is probably one of the best exponents in the genre of Free Jazz and is part of that pioneering batch of musicians who have changed the course of modern music by several degrees. She is also part of that slowly expanding sorority of Women in Jazz who have ground the glass ceiling into dust and have put the form in its rightful place of being the unbiased, unprejudiced, non-judgmental avenue of creativity it was always meant to be. Which is why I have always considered the notes to be the purest form of expression there is. My two cents.
There is a brilliant article written by Ethan Iverson, published this past May in the New Yorker, which pretty much nails how a lot of people (myself included) feel about Carla Bley and her contribution to Jazz and Music in general. Here’s a taste:
Every jazz fan knows the name of Carla Bley, but her relentless productivity and constant reinvention can make it difficult to grasp her contribution to music. I began listening to her in high school when I was enamored with the pianist Paul Bley, whose seminal nineteen-sixties LPs were filled with Carla Bley compositions. (The two were married.) My small home-town library also had a copy of “The Carla Bley Band: European Tour 1977,” a superb disk of rowdy horn soloists carousing through instantly memorable Bley compositions and arrangements. Some pieces change you forever. The deadly serious yet hilarious “Spangled Banner Minor and Other Patriotic Songs,” from that 1977 recording, celebrates and defaces several nationalistic themes, beginning with the American national anthem recast as Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata. From the first notes onward, I was never quite the same again.
The novelist and musician Wesley Stace has a similar story: “Aged sixteen, and full only of rock and pop music, I came upon Carla Bley by chance through a Pink Floyd solo project, Nick Mason’s ‘Fictitious Sports,’ which I only bought because the vocals were by my favorite singer, Robert Wyatt, once of Soft Machine. It’s a Carla Bley album in all but name: her songs embellished with brilliant and witty arrangements. I wanted to hear more. ‘Social Studies’ (also from 1981) thus became the first jazz album I ever bought, opening up a whole world I knew nothing about. ‘Utviklingssang’ is perfect, all gorgeous melody and abstraction, no words required. She’s everything I want from instrumental music.”
In the last half decade, many of Bley’s remaining peers from the early years have died: Paul Bley, Charlie Haden, Roswell Rudd, Ornette Coleman, Paul Motian. At eighty-two, Bley is still composing and practicing the piano every day. But it also felt like it was high time to rent a car, visit a hero, and try to get a few stories on the official record.
Here’s where you can find the rest of it – A Lifetime Of Carla Bley. Go there – and go exploring.
In the meantime, hit the Play button and enjoy.