Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow, Andando el Tiempo (ECM)
As Carla Bley looks forward to her 80th birthday on May 11, ECM is releasing one of the most absorbing albums of her career. From the first notes of her three-part title suite, the Brahmsian gravity of Bley’s writing transfixes the listener and demands close attention. At the piano, the clarity of Bley’s musical intelligence intertwines with Andy Sheppard’s saxophone mastery and Steve Swallow’s transformation of what he recently called “this rock and roll instrument”—his electric bass guitar—into a medium of unprecedented subtlety.
As profound as they were in the previous Bley-Sheppard-Swallow album, Trios, Andando el Tiempo goes a degree further into emotional depth. If the listener doesn’t know from Bley’s brief liner note that the suite is “about” a friend’s ensnarement in addiction, agonies of treatment and ultimate victory over drugs, the music nonetheless clearly speaks of fall, struggle and redemption. Her use of relaxed tango rhythms is an impotant part of what maintains the suite’s urgency. Bley attributes the title of “Saints Alive” to, “an expression used by old ladies on the porch in the cool of the evening when they exchanged especially juicy gossip.” Juicy, perhaps, but in this telling not hilarious. The piece has a crepuscular relaxation about it. It is a long conversation between Bley and Swallow, with Sheppard interweaving concluding tenor sax commentary.
On Soprano sax, Sheppard makes the most of “Naked Bridges/Diving Brides,” which Bley wrote as a wedding present for him and his wife Sara. It incorporates phrases from Mendelssohn’s wedding march with Bley harmonies that Mendelssohn might have been pleased to know. The title refers to “Peking Widow,” a poem by Paul Haines, who has collaborated with Bley on several projects. This album, which seems destined to be considered one of the year’s best, is a feather in the cap of ECM’s Manfred Eicher, who produced it.
The album was recorded in Lugano, Switzerland, in November of last year. Our video of “Andando el Tiempo” came from the Paris club New Morning a few days earlier. Mrs. Bley introduces the piece in French. Be prepared to listen to her slowly. In the video, the configuration of the suite’s sections differs from that on the album.