The Carla Bley Band
Michael Mantler trumpet
Alan Braufman alto saxophone, clarinet, flute
Gary Windo tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
John Clark French horn
Roswell Rudd trombone, vocals
Bob Stewart tuba
Terry Adams piano
Carla Bley organ
Steve Swallow bass guitar
D. Sharpe drums
Charlie Haden acoustic bass
Eugene Chadbourne acoustic and electric guitars
Karen Mantler glockenspiel
Recorded August through November and mixed December 1978 at Grog Kill Studio, Willow, New York
Engineer: Michael Mantler
Produced by Carla Bley
Release date: April 1, 1979
Hot on the heels of European Tour 1977, Musique Mecanique follows a classic with a classic. Clearly fueled by the energy put forth in that predecessor, Carla Bley funneled a wealth of inspiration from being on the road into her New York studio. Expanding her ten-tet to a 13-piece band, she drops some of her densest compositions to date in an audio time capsule for the ages.
The title of “440” references the modern orchestral pitch standard of A440. Appropriately, the piece begins with the cacophony of a tuning orchestra. From this emerges an insistent pulse and, by extension, a three-dimensional theme. Drummer D. Sharpe signs in as a new team member, and he will prove to be a vital one as the years wear on. Pianist Terry Adams embodies his duties to the fullest, as does Gary Windo on tenor and Alan Braufman on alto, while Bley embraces them all with the expansive wingspan of her organ in trombonist Roswell Rudd’s jet stream.
“Jesus Maria And Other Spanish Strains” is an even more horn-centric gallery of images. Though initially occupying the darker end of a synesthetic spectrum, before long it sports choice solos from tuba virtuoso Bob Stewart and bassist Charlie Haden, who clearly understands Bley’s music from the inside out. As things develop, those robustly whimsical touches we come to expect from Bley creep out of frame, held together by Sharpe’s gorgeous detailing and trumpeter Michael Mantler’s mariachi marinade before ending with a nocturnal stare.
The three-part title suite is one of Bley’s grandest achievements. The first part, sounding for all like a calliope machine struggling to come out of a coma, features Karen Mantler on glockenspiel for a decidedly three-ring vibe. The second part, subtitled “At Midnight,” begins with a clock ticking and chiming the hour. Bley enhances the mood. Rudd puts down the trombone and sings of two souls lost in the night, each opening the door to the room of the other in an endless cycle of unrequited action. The final part is a splash of genius in an already prodigious cocktail. Glacial organ, screeching saxophone, and an earworm of a melody draw us a treasure map to keep in our rucksacks for future outings.