Carla Bley: Sextet (WATT/17)

WATT-17-front

Carla Bley
Sextet

Carla Bley organ
Hiram Bullock guitar
Larry Willis piano
Steve Swallow bass
Victor Lewis
drums
Don Alias percussion
Recorded and mixed December 1986 and January 1987 by Doug Epstein at Grog Kill Studio, Willow, New York
Mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound
Produced by Carla Bley and Steve Swallow
Release date: March 1, 1987

Still steaming from the Night-Glo session that preceded it, Bley might be forgiven for the double entendre of the nearly-as-sensual Sextet. Here she joins forces with new love Steve Swallow in a band of extended family that includes Hiram Bullock on guitar, Larry Willis on piano, Victor Lewis on drums, and Don Alias on percussion. Swallow and Bley are the focal point, essentially a duo whose not-so-hidden thoughts are spun outward by the other musicians.

“More Brahms” opens with smooth stylings all around. The soloing is choice, and Willis’s 98.6-degree comping adds to the brink-of-twilight vibe. Bullock counters with the slow rock infusions of “Houses And People,” for which the rhythm section changes gears as vines and waterfalls go by in a pleasant blur toward a sparkling ending. In “The Girl Who Cried Champagne,” among the bandleader’s most memorable compositions, Willis shuttles a Latin loom as Bley’s organ limns the horizon with pale fire beneath Bullock’s liquid metal sky. From the tropical to the urban, the scenery undergoes a dramatic costume change in “Brooklyn Bridge.” Riding a wave of progressive density, Alias’s detailing accents the passage of time in a tune that might otherwise seem timeless. By the time we run our fingers across the carefully manicured “Lawns,” we find ourselves knee-deep in hope. Every note of Swallow’s lyrical solo plucks a weed from our path. All of which fortifies the final “Healing Power,” a gut punch of love that hits us where it counts.

Without an ounce of the vibrant and ear-changing challenges posed by so many of her previous recordings, this one nevertheless charms with a breeziness that could only be born of the confident left turns taken to get to this two-lane highway.

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