Bley, Swallow, Sheppard: Life Goes On (ECM, digital outlets)

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Copycat 1: After You
Bley, Swallow, Sheppard: Life Goes On (ECM, digital outlets)
Now in her Eighties, the great composer/pianist/organist Carla Bley remains productive as a recording artist and here completes a trilogy of albums with her longtime trio of bassist/partner Steve Swallow and British saxophonist Andy Sheppard (who is now in his mid Sixties for those of you who remember hm as the hot young player out of London alongside Courtney Pine).

The first in the series, Trios, announced the territory but it was Andanado el Tiempo/In the Course of Time which was quite exceptional as a sometimes melancholy meditation, the three-part title track in particular. (It is on Spotify here)

If the title of this final installment suggests acceptance – it has been reported the albums deal with her struggles with alcohol – the gentle walking blues of the title track opener (a four-part suite) has a real spiritual uplift to it which Sheppard brings a delightfully romantic but bitter-sweet quality to.

Throughout this suite (the pieces being the full title title, On, then And On, and finally And Then One Day, all of which echo the sense of progress and resolution) there is spacious, considered and effortlessly melodic unveiling of the core tunes with Swallow's bass being as much a lead instrument as Bley's piano and Sheppard's seductive tones.

And as they progress each is more upbeat and light-filled than its predecessor.

The second suite is the three-part Beautiful Telephones (words which Trump actually said, but that's hardly surprising) and briefly incorporates phrases from American standards like Yankee Doodle Dandy, Star Spangled Banner, Hail to the Chief and others in ironic, droll quotations.

But there is also a considered, pensive quality here as if there is much to be considered in a time of a failed and flawed presidency which is easy to ridicule but harder to live with.

The final three-part suite Copycat (the sprightly Part Two a bare 17 seconds) starts in a similarly reflective and elemental mood but becomes a more witty and lively sequence of increasingly joyful interplay in its final 10 minute section.

The album title plays out across this music until this optimistic closing sequence. 

Life Goes On is perhaps one of the easy entry points into the remarkable career of Carla Bley who has appeared on albums with Pink Floyd's Nick Mason (Fictitious Sports), Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Golden Palominos, co-wrote the majestic Escalator Over the Hill (a roll call of jazz and rock artists), and whose work has been interpreted by literally scores of artists.

Thought provoking jazz for thoughtful times.

You can hear Life Goes On at Spotify here.

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Keith Shackleton - Apr 14, 2020

Just realised Escalator Over the Hill is on Spotify now.. woah!

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