Sunday, December 21, 2008

Carla Bley, Appearing Nightly On Your CD Player

I hate to be the one to say it, but it seems like there is no question anymore that professional Big Band Jazz is dying. I'm not saying that Big Bands are dying; they will always live on in high schools and in the ghost bands that tour the country with monstrous young players and subdued, well-written charts. Of course there are Maria Schneider and Dave Holland, the newest to enter the Big Band fray and the ones who win all of the awards, but Holland never tours with his big band (and hasn't played a big band date in years) and Schneider can hardly afford to keep hers together. Well, thank God for Carla Bley, one of the most idiosyncratic writers in generation and one of the best big band arrangers (and writers) ever, and for her new album, "Appearing Nightly."

"Appearing Nightly" is credited to Carla Bley and her Remarkable Big Band, and features such killer on-the-cusp-of-fame musicians as trumpeter Lew Soloff, tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard, drummer Billy Drummond, trombonist Gary Valente, and bassist Steve Swallow, to name only five. The playing is stellar all around, and everybody in the long-standing band can (and do) play the hell out of Bley's arrangements, which, presumably, they have been playing nightly for years. The first two tracks, "Greasy Gravy" and "Awful Coffee," in particular feature some brilliant soloing from the aforementioned musicians. "Awful Coffee," an uptempo burner, features a mind-altering and quotation-filled solo from Sheppard, and "Greasy Gravy," a slower, medium swing number, showcases Valente's odd ideas on trombone.

An album like "Appearing Nightly" is not about the solos though, and Bley's tunes and arrangements are brilliant and idiosyncratic. Bley, like a master chef putting her stamp on a dish that's been cooked by many brilliant cooks before her, takes a format and tunes that sound like they could have been written in 1950, and then turns them inside out with odd voicings and backign-figures. Granted, Bley is more of a traditionalist than, say, Bill Holman, who can take a Monk tune and make it sound like an acid trip in a house of mirrors (just listen to his "Brilliant Corners: The Music of Thelonious Monk" for a taste), but her charts are too weird and creative to simply be labled a rehash. She throws dissonant minor ninthson top of the melody on "Awful Coffee," and randomly inserts a rhythm changes bridge out of nowhere in the middle of the tune just for the hell of it. Quotes abound, and my personal favorite is a random interjection of the melody of "You Stepped Out of a Dream" in the middle of "Appearing Nightly At the Black Orchid," the 25-minute suite that makes up the heart of the record.

A killin' big band record, there should be more like it. Recommended.

3 comments:

AccuJazz said...

I agree wholeheartedly. One of my absolute favorites of '08.

Fred said...

callum: care to weigh in (to the class) on giddins article on rudresh in new new yorker? fb

Gsblog said...

I share your admiration for Carla Bley's work. However, her bands do not work every night. She hardly works at all in the USA. The big audience is in Europe. She has a spine of American musicians but the bulk of the band is European. My estimate is 10 out of 17. The CD was even recorded in Paris.