At WSJ on the new Carla Bley album


‘Andando el Tiempo’ by Carla Bley Review: Big Force in a Small Group

On a recording that’s more pastoral than her earlier work, a pianist gently pushes music into new realms.

Carla Bley, Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard. ENLARGE
Carla Bley, Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard. Photo: Caterina di Perri / ECM Records

During her lengthy career, Carla Bley has established a formidable reputation as a composer, a big band leader and a businesswoman. To celebrate her 80th birthday, she has just released a recording that focuses on her piano playing. “Andando el Tiempo” (ECM) is a showcase for Ms. Bley’s intimate music, and it features superb, reserved performances in a trio setting featuring two longtime collaborators, bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard.

Ms. Bley has worked with both musicians for more than 20 years, and their rapport is easy to hear; there are few unaccompanied solos, and most of the interplay sounds intuitive and spontaneous rather than composed. Ms. Bley’s pieces are elegant and contemplative. Unlike her work in the ’60s, which featured a biting, urban edge, these compositions are nearly pastoral, perhaps an effect of her living just outside of Woodstock, N.Y., for more than a quarter century. Some of her early work—written in the late ’50s and early ’60s—was recorded by a Jimmy Giuffre-led trio of the same configuration found on “Andando el Tiempo.” This new recording has some of the same subtle complexities of that earlier band, though this ensemble’s temperament is more relaxed and the music is more contemplative. Unlike many pianists, Ms. Bley isn’t a flamboyant soloist; instead her style pushes the music gently into new realms.

Ms. Bley first made her mark on the New York jazz scene as a composer, but in 1964 she helped organize the Jazz Composers Guild, a collective that led to the formation of the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, which featured many of the era’s finest musicians, including trumpeter Don Cherry and trombonist Roswell Rudd. In 1971, the Orchestra released her best known work, “Escalator Over the Hill,” a sprawling two-hour piece with poetry by Paul Haines—often called a jazz opera—that involved more than 30 musicians. She also started two labels, JCOA and WATT, as well as the New Music Distribution Service, which channeled the work of independent jazz labels into the marketplace.

At a May 11 concert and reception to celebrate both the new recording and Ms. Bley’s birthday, the trio performed “Copycat,” a new composition, as well as music from the new album. Afterward Ms. Bley spoke enthusiastically about a gig early next month in Hamburg, Germany, where she will present another new work, “La Leçon Française,” for the NDR big band and a 40-member boys’ choir. In addition, this summer she will direct the Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra at the Chicago Jazz Festival. Clearly Ms. Bley’s efforts in small groups haven’t dimmed her passion for large ensemble presentations.

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.


About jmartin437

I've worked in and around the world of high end cheese for 27 years. I've been everything from a department manager who hired and fired and trained staffs to a weekend warrior who shows up ties on an apron the middle of a rush and talks to customers and cleans up the place. I enjoy it all, and I especially like my current situation conducting informal seminars about cheese at area bars and in class at the 92nd St. Y. The current schedule is always up at In addition I conduct private events that are perfect to lead off birthday parties for foodies and sommeliers and also they make great entertainment for corporate team building events and associates meetings at law firms. In addition, I've been a freelance journalist for 27 years. Currently my profiles of leading musicians and filmmakers appear in the Wall Street Journal and I also wrote about sports for the Root, and for five loooong years, which included the entirety of the Isiah Thomas Knicks era, I wrote about the NBA for the New York Sun. I enjoyed writing about basketball so much that I now do it here at rotations for free.
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