Carla Bley: 4×4 (WATT/30)

4x4

Carla Bley
4×4

Lew Soloff trumpet
Wolfgang Puschnig alto saxophone, flute
Andy Sheppard tenor saxophone
Gary Valente trombone
Carla Bley
piano
Larry Goldings organ
Steve Swallow bass
Victor Lewis drums
Recorded July 1999 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jon Marius Aareskjold
Mixed and mastered at Grog Kill Studio, Willow, New York
Engineer: Tom Mark
General co-ordination: Ilene Mark
Produced by Carla Bley and Steve Swallow
Release date: September 25, 2000

While touring across Europe with a newly fashioned octet in July of 1999, Carla Bley and friends stepped into Oslo’s Rainbow Studio to record 4×4. The set opens its eyes as if waking from a bygone dream in “Blues In 12 Bars / Blues In 12 Other Bars.” These two mirrors are faced toward each other, so that an infinity reflection ensues. Running between them, as far as the ear can hear, are her familiar horn section of Lew Soloff (trumpet), Wolfgang Puschnig (alto saxophone and flute), Andy Sheppard (tenor saxophone), and Gary Valente (trombone), while Bley herself from the piano helms a crew of Larry Goldings (the sole newcomer, on organ), Steve Swallow (bass), and Victor Lewis (drums). The welcome mat thus laid, we step into as pleasant an introduction to the band’s rapport as we might imagine. Likeminded contrasts abound in “Baseball,” thereby throwing the first pitch of a tight game between the two quartets, whose crosstalk gives rise to a leaping catch from Valente. Sheppard’s whispering tenor in “Útviklingssang” closes out the season with what is by far the most superior arrangement of this beloved tune. “Sidewinders In Paradise” revives the playfulness of earlier Bley and shuffles rainforest chatter with urban chic, setting up a menagerie of in-house solos.

But the reigning queen is “Les Trois Lagons (d’apres Henri Matisse).” Originally commissioned by the Grenoble Jazz Festival and inspired by Jazz, a series of cut-outs by Henri Matisse, it was first performed by her trio with Swallow and Sheppard in 1996. At nearly 16 minutes, it’s a viable piece of history. As cigarette smoke and laughter hang over the heads of upwardly mobile socialites and starving artists alike, it morphs into an aural cubism.

So much of Bley’s output by now is worth listening to that the word “essential” loses more meaning with each subsequent release. Don’t hesitate to dive into this one and trust its air supply to bring you safely back to the surface.

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