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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove



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CARLA BLEY BIG BAND

Appearing Nightly

Watt 172 5516

 

 

 


 
1. Greasy Gravy
2. Awful Cpoffee
3. Appearing Nightly at the Black Orchid - 40 On/20 Off
- Second Round
- What Would You Like to Hear?
- Last Call
4. Someone to Watch
5. I Hadn't Anyone Till You
 
Earl Gardner, Lew Soloff, Giampaolo Casati, Florian Esch - Trumpets
Beppe Calamosca, Gary Valente, Gigi Grata, Richard Henry - Trombones
Roger Jannotta - Soprano and alto saxes, flute
Wolfgang Puschnig - Alto sax, flute
Andy Sheppard, Christophe Panzani - Tenor saxes
Julian Arguelles - Baritone sax
Carla Bley - Piano, conductor
Karen Mantler - Organ
Steve Swallow - Bass
Billy Drummond - Drums

 

When she was young, Carla Bley worked as a cigarette girl at Birdland and a cloakroom attendant at Basin Street and the Jazz Gallery, so that she could hear the big bands playing there. The nightclubs of the 1950s inspired Carla's compositions on this new album, which actually came together in a rather haphazard manner.

The title-track was originally composed by Carla for the 2005 Monterey Jazz Festival. Its four parts reflect Carla's job as a lounge pianist at the Black Orchid, a Monterey nightclub. Carla wrote the first two tracks on the CD to fulfil a commission from a Sardinian orchestra (which wanted music connected with food), and the last two were inspired by tunes written respectively by George Gershwin and Ray Noble (hence their titles). All the pieces were eventually recorded over two nights at the New Morning venue in Paris.

The result is a constantly intriguing album. Some of Carla's music may be discordant but even the noisier moments are rendered listenable by the continual shafts of humour - even disrespect. The opening Greasy Gravy, for instance, sounds suspiciously like Pretty Baby (a resemblance which is underlined in Carla's piano solo) but it also contains an unexpected quotation from April in Paris as well as a sax solo with touches of wit. Like Duke Ellington, Carla Bley chooses musicians with their own individual voices, which she uses to good effect. The most notable example in her recent groups is trombonist Gary Valente, whose unbridled rasping tone is unmistakable in Greasy Gravy and elsewhere. It can sound threatening or joyous and, when it is at its most outlandish, reminds me of the way that George Chisholm used to turn the trombone into a purveyor of comedy.

Responding to the request from the Orchestra Jazz della Sardegna for a piece with references to food, Carla's Awful Coffee contains references to such tunes as Salt Peanuts, Watermelon Man and Tea for Two as well as an imitation of a cock crowing. It also has a lissom baritone sax solo by Julian Argelles and a growling trumpet solo from Lew Soloff - plus a reference to that old piano favourite, Chopsticks!

The 25-minute Appearing Nightly at the Black Orchid starts with Carla at the piano playing everything from My Foolish Heart to Sweet and Lovely. After this there are several well-orchestrated ensembles, a fine drum solo by Billy Drummond (who seems to quote from Louie Bellson at one point), some more outspoken Valente and extrovert trumpet from Soloff.

Someone to Watch is an up-tempo swinger with the saxophones working in counterpoint, followed by lots of lithe sax soloing. Only at the end do we hear a brief quotation from Gershwin's Someone To Watch Over Me. I Hadn't Anyone Till You gives us much more of Ray Noble's original: in fact it is an arrangement of his composition, but in quirky Carla Bley style. Wolfgang Puschnig contributes a spirited alto-sax solo; Gary Valente and Lew Soloff come in again on full power; and the ensemble takes the tune out in an appropriately big-band manner.

However, this isn't a conventional big band - and it is the better for it. In a world of conformists, Carla Bley is her own woman. This individuality makes for a unique sound - and a style which keeps the listener listening intently. Marvellous!

Tony Augarde



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