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Carla Bley Selected Recordings Review


BBC Review

This compilation is as good a survey of Bley's music as you're likely to find; in...

Martin Longley 2003

Bley started up her WATT imprint in 1973, effectively an ECM subsidiary, and as Carla admits, probably shooting off in directions that label head Manfred Eicher wouldn't necessarily choose himself. Unusually for this series of ECM compilations, Bley takes things right back to 1961, running her choices chronologically in reverse. She tends to place greater emphasis on the 1990s work, with the '80s maybe touched upon too lightly.

The opening "Baseball" establishes the overriding tone of wily pastiche, typically fidgety as it touches each style in turn and building up a cartoonish density, with Gary Valente's solo spluttering right at its centre. Like most of her co-selectors, Carla takes advantage of a varied songbook; the piano/bass duet of "Major" is followed by the studied cool of her Fancy Chamber Music line-up with strings, flute, clarinet and vibraphone.

After this, the trio with Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow drives hard, Bley playing with an earthily percussive attack, her partners skimming lightly beside her. When the full Big Band sound is unleashed, it's powerfully extroverted when firing off in unison. "On The Stage In Cages" travels through its many phases, taking in gospel, carnival, blues and New Orleans motifs. These expanded line-ups have an extreme theatricality that can be enjoyably exhausting, but some of the older numbers have a harder edge, their humour more savage.

1980's "Walking Batteriewoman" is flooded with Bley's organ, as Michael Mantler burns up his trumpet. Charlie Haden's "Silence" arrives at a fitting moment, its mournful stasis introducing a very brief song from the Escalator Over The Hill song cycle.We finish with 1961's "Ictus", played here by the Jimmy Giuffre 3.

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