Carla Bley with Steve Swallow: Night-Glo (WATT/16)


Carla Bley
with Steve Swallow

Steve Swallow bass
Carla Bley organ, synthesizers
Larry Willis piano, electric piano
Hiram Bullock guitar
Victor Lewis drums
Manolo Badrena percussion
Paul McCandless oboe, English horn, soprano, tenor, and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet
Randy Brecker trumpet, flugelhorn
John Clark French horn
Tom Malone trombone
David Taylor bass trombone
Recorded and mixed June through August 1985 by Tom Mark at Grog Kill Studio, Willow, New York
Produced by Carla Bley and Steve Swallow
Release date: November 1, 1985

If Carla Bley’s biography were a movie, then Night-Glo would be the love scene. Indeed, around the time this album was being recorded, she and bassist Steve Swallow had elevated their relationship from that of musical to life partners. Their newfound romance, translated here in the studio, might even come across as voyeuristic were it not for the tasteful and sincere way in which it is presented, as warm to the touch as ever.

The arrangement of opener “Pretend You’re In Love” tells us we’re in for an experience so 80s-luscious, so adoringly crafted, we almost expect to hear an R&B singer sauntering into frame. Adding an air of mystery to this candlelit reverie is the unmistakable English horn of Paul McCandless, one of a few adroit inclusions in the band’s roster, along with trumpeter Randy Brecker, percussionist Manolo Badrena, and pianist Larry Willis. The title track is a plush vehicle for Swallow’s bassing, which, luxuriating in the sound of horns (as if from the traffic they’ve stopped), stretches its body to fullest length. Brecker’s trumpet is an ecstatic voice in this fleshy symphony, while Bley’s piano buries the heartache of a past that already feels distant. The guitar of Hiram Bullock echoes in “Rut,” as if manifesting the anticipation of a physical contact that hovers just beyond the reach of consummation. Swallow links a chain of poetic verses from start to finish, drawing an artful segue into “Crazy With You.” Bley’s hot-n’-heavy organ taps a controlled fire into fadeout.

Bley ends with one of her finest suites, the three-part “Wildlife.” It begins with “Horn,” moves into the smoother contours “Paws Without Claws,” and ends on the delicate high note of “Sex With Birds.” An overwhelming sense of transition, of progression from solitude to companionship, prevails. This is humanity at its most beautiful, the resonance that binds and makes us whole.

Maybe it’s just me reading too deeply into things, but I find it significant that the band employed to bring all of this to life should consist of 11 members, for the number itself—“1” on “1”—is the perfect illustration of emotional synthesis. Coincidence? You be the judge. In the meantime, if you want to know what the heart sounds like when reborn, just press PLAY and close your eyes.

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