The Limits of Reality

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Carla Bley / Mike Mantler / Steve Lacy / Kent Carter / Aldo Romano
Jazz Realities
Fontana : 1966

CB, piano; MM, trumpet; SL, soprano sax; KC, bass; AR, drums.

So this is–  what, exactly? Too knotty for post-bop. Too compositional for free improv. Not harmolodic enough to be mistaken for Ornette. Not skronky enough to have been released on ESP. Not aggressively avant, but slyly off-kilter. It’s achingly lovely one moment, and heedlessly unsettled the next. In short, too weird for most traditionalists and too seemly for most noiseniks.

This shape-shifting Whatsit from 1966 isn’t the sort of radical recording that remakes sound worlds. Instead, it’s the unusual album that deftly positions itself between various familiar modes and tones.  Jazz Realities offers plenty of handles, but it doesn’t let you hang on to any of them for long. This is music aimed at the listener’s blind spot. Recorded in the Netherlands and featuring a stellar line-up of American and European musicians, it still sounds as intriguing out-of-step as it ever did.

The album is billed as a collective effort, but we’re inclined to give Carla Bley most of the credit. She wrote the majority of the tunes – including the two here – and her gift for unexpected arrangements shines throughout. “Doctor” gallops out of the gate, featuring strong horn riffs that are immediately unraveled by Romano’s free drumming. Note how Bley’s crabwise piano solo seems to underscore the drum performance, not vice-versa. The solos from Lacy and Mantler blow hot and ellipitcal, not necessarily in that order.

“Oni Puladi” is our fave, a delicate ballad-esque tune that’s structured as a series of surging sighs. It’s sheerly beautiful, but also ragged and frayed around the edges, more concerned with feeling than exactness of form. Bley unfortunately seems to have shed this pleasing wooliness over her career, but you can hear it in spades on this song.

Don’t expect to be immediately overwhelmed by either piece. But give them a few spins and you may be surprised how deeply they’ll seep into the cracks of your day.

Discussion13 Comments Category Carla Bley Tags , , , ,

13 Responses to The Limits of Reality

  1. Nice post here on Miz Bley. I’d only heard her recent recordings and wasn’t impressed, but obviously I was missing something! Well, there were those fine Liberation Orkestra albums but I think of them as Charlie Haden joints, maybe unfairly…?

    What other more adventurous work has Carla Bley done? Or is this kinda it?

    And I must say it’s nice to see a sister actually spotlit here on D:O. I dig that jazz tends to be a man’s man’s man’s world and all, but women have contributed some fearsome music to the cause too. How about some more from the ladies, gents?

    I’m sure there’s no lack of possible albums and artists. I’ll start: How about some early Amina Claudine Meyers?

  2. Wow – peculiar stuff indeed. Was only vaguely aware of this record’s existence. Thanks so much!

  3. Thanks for another great post D:O… I’m probably preaching to the inconvertable, but don’t write off Carla Bley’s more recent work just because it’s not as obviously out as her older work… There’s some really fine writing/playing in there… just sayin, having an open mind about music works both ways. peace

  4. “Escalator Over the Hill” is a must-hear, from proto-LMO big band to the perfect pop song (“Why”). What other album has Paul Motian, Linda Rondstadt, Don Cherry, Jack Bruce, Jimmy Lyons, Gato Barbieri, Leroy Jenkins, John McLaughlin, Roswell Rudd and Charlie Haden?

  5. Point taken, Chris. Will try to re-open our ears to later period CB.

    And totally agree re EOtH, which you can download from Amazon here. But otherwise not in print? Loco.

  6. Interesting to finally hear this unit that Lacy has spoken of in interviews for years. I am struck by how modern it sounds, of course 1966 isn’t exactly ancient history, at least not to me. I love the interplay in this band, particularly between drums and piano. This might be the issue that you have with Bley’s later work. It has become settled in a way that this early piece is not. The success of Escalator has led the composer down the big band garden path which seems to get weighted down with horn arrangements whereas here the steaming drums don’t let the horns stay in the same place too long. Thanks for this post. I look forward to the next one.

  7. It’s worth noting that “Oni Puladi” is a re-working of her earlier tune “Ida Lupino.” Hence the anagram.

  8. the main Carla exposure for me has been Paul’s records comprised of mostly Carla tunes, like Footloose, Barrage and Ramblin’. These 2 tracks are great, and serve as a reminder to the importance of composition.

  9. Paul Bley’s Closer (1965, ESP — recently reissued!) features some beautiful Carla Bley tunes including the definitive version of Ida Lupino (in my mind at least).

  10. Man! Great tracks. Hadn’t heard these before. The drum and piano interplay you mentioned is right on. Trying to hunt down a copy now.

    RE: Closer, I recently got the Get Back reissue of that LP. They did a really nice job. Can’t play that one enough.

    -Jim T
    Greenleaf Music
    ***Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy ~ Spirit Moves ~ Available Now ***

  11. Yes. Thank you. I see Jim beat me here by a few beats…

    Love this record — and not only is Oni Puladi a re-working of Ida Lupino. It’s literally the same notes played backwards !

    There’s another relatively unremarked book of Carla Bley arrangements on a Gary Burton record called ‘A Genuine Tong Funeral.’ It’s one of my favorites, with Lacy, Rudd, Peacock, Moses, and many others. It is fantastic, and worth searching out — as of a few years ago still findable on CD.

    Carla is an American Giant.

  12. some great tracks (and a great picture too). I don’t know this early Bley, but I see that’ll have to change. And I agree with Chris’s earlier comments – some of her recent stuff, though undoubtable ‘in’, is incredible. Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu is a beautiful disc – nothing of the wild energy here, but wonderful horn lines, interplay and harmonies.

  13. Found a copy of Escalator Over The Hill. What an incredible sound they achieved on that recording. I believe the sax solos are mostly Gato Barbieri — what a tone!

    Thanks again for leading me down this path.

    -Jim T
    Greenleaf Music
    ***Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy ~ Spirit Moves ~ Available Now ***

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