Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band – Appearing Nightly (2008)

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by Mark Saleski

There are two things that can be counted on when cracking open a new Carla Bley Big Band record: 1. many, many interesting and twisty passages of musical architecture and 2. volume. Oh yes, the horn section is enormous and it’s powerful. I’ve made jokes about Bley’s hair being shaped by the sheer force of that moving air. Don’t mistake this as a cheap joke at Bley’s expense. Go ahead and check out records like The Very Big Carla Bley Band — and remember to brace yourself lest “United States” knock you right back on your jazz-lovin’ butt.

All of which brings me to Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band. This is a live album, recorded at the New Morning club in Paris in August of 2006. For this date, Bley wanted to pay her respects to the songwriters and big bands of the first half of the 20th century. She does so with the usual musicality, humor, and massive blasts of wiggling air molecules.

The title track is a great example. A romantic piano introduction creates some tension by its proximity to the rising energy of Steve Swallow and Billy Drummond’s bridge section that both presages and actively instigates some careening horn fun. At over 25 minutes in length, “Appearing Nightly at the Black Orchid” showcases Bley’s talent for charting wide-ranging dynamics, funny asides, and brilliantly textured sheets of sound.

Did I mention that I love it when trombones take a solo?

If long-form big band music doesn’t win you over, I guarantee that “Awful Coffee” will. There’s the spikey horns, the mad swing, the intense solos, the slinky bass line layed down by Mr. Swallow. I also love how, as the song nears its conclusion, the main them is pushed slightly askew, as if somebody sat on the sheet music. Or something.

Even shorter is “Someone To Watch,” which wants to fit in as many quotes from “Salt Peanuts” and “Someone To Watch Over Me” as is humanly possible in less than six minutes.

All kidding aside, this really is ‘serious’ music if by serious you mean that the composer is truly devoted to her source material. Bley does indeed love all of those big bands and songwriters — and it shows. Those folks at the New Morning club really got to hear something special that night.

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