Carla Bley: Live! (WATT/12)


The Carla Bley Band

Michael Mantler trumpet
Steve Slagle alto and soprano saxophones, flute
Tony Dagradi tenor saxophone
Gary Valente trombone
Vincent Chancey French horn
Earl McIntyre tuba, bass trombone (solo on “Blunt Object)
Carla Bley organ, glockenspiel, piano (on “Time And Us”)
Arturo O’Farrill piano, organ (on “Time And Us” only)
Steve Swallow bass
D. Sharpe
Recorded August 19-21, 1981 at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, California by Phil Edwards
Recording/Engineer: Ron Davis
Mixed December 1981 at Grog Kill Studio, Willow, New York
Engineer: Tom Mark
Produced by Carla Bley
Release date: April 1, 1982

Carla Bley’s phenomenal ten-tet returns on Live! And with it, the assurance that the next stage in our trek through the WATT catalog has laid a fruitful path before us. Sporting one of her most iconic album covers, infamous red sweater and all, this collection, recorded in August 1981 at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, is a fascination that keeps on giving. One can feel Bley moving (in the most physical sense) into every tune, letting it speak for itself.

What I love about this album is its self-aware presentation, sheer variety, and musical derring-do. To be sure, there’s plenty of smooth surfaces on which to walk. Whether we’re talking about the classic vibe of “Time And Us” (though one can hardly discount the slight edginess of Tony Dagradi’s tenor) or Steve Swallow’s dedicated bass line in “Song Sung Long” (noteworthy also for the soprano saxophone of new recruit Steve Slagle), a feeling of living in the moment prevails, as also in the domestic romance of “Still In The Room.” But chances are meant to be taken, and that Bley does through her application of Latin flavors in “Real Life Hits” and full-on gospel attempt in “The Lord Is Listenin’ To Ya, Hallelujah!” With her low and slow approach to the organ, Bley wraps us in a blanket of worship, at once soothing and energizing.

But for me it’s opener “Blunt Object” that plows the deepest field. From Swallow’s ear-catching intro to its driven sense of drama, it recalls for me the Maria Schneider arrangement of David Bowie’s “Sue,” a sister energy of which is pushed out like sunshine through Dagradi’s tenor.

Recorded as if we were right there on stage, Live! invites us to be a part of the action. Little do we know this was barely half the fun that awaits us in the next album.

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