Carla Bley/Steve Swallow: Duets (WATT/20)


Carla Bley
Steve Swallow

Carla Bley piano
Steve Swallow bass
Recorded by Steve Swallow, with assistance from Joe Ferla, at Grog Kill Studio, Willow, New York, Summer 1988
General co-ordination: Michael Mantler
Produced by Carla Bley and Steve Swallow
Release date: November 7, 1988

Given the connections they forged on previous outings, it was only a matter of time before Carla Bley and Steve Swallow made a duo album in the literal sense. And with it, a new chapter in the life of both musicians was born.

Bley gets the lion’s share of composing credits, offering a handful of ageless tunes. The first of these to really catch the ear, after the opening act of “Baby Baby,” is “Walking Batteriewoman,” in which abstraction and upbeat invitation run hand-in-hand into unknown futures. A newer addition to her canon is “Romantic Notions #3.” This tongue-in-cheek number walks a tightrope between what society expects of a relationship and what one actually feels after its initial blush has subsided into reality. With organ-like sonority, Bley’s pianism lays bare an understanding that life happens only when love prevails. In the shadow of this experience, “Ups & Downs” seems to ladder its way back to “Útviklingssang.” As a choice recording of this personal favorite (Swallow’s bass sings with especial sweetness and Bley has rarely expounded so tenderly), it is unmissable. Another of Bley’s masterpieces, “Reactionary Tango,” finds its way here. Hearing this three-parter in such close quarters allows its farthest corners to the glow in the light of interpretation.

Moreover, the set list sports two fine diary entries from Swallow’s pen. “Ladies in Mercedes” is a gem that fits in seamlessly with its surroundings. The hand-offs between bass and piano are as organic as their players’ feelings for each other. “Remember” is a highlight for its sheer aesthetic pleasure, against which Bley’s arrangement of the spiritual “Soon I Will Be Done With The Troubles Of This World” wastes not a single note by contrast.

After such a long tour through some of Bley’s densest textures and arrangements, it’s a privilege to settle down and snuggle up against the heart beating within all along.

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