Iro Haarla, Ulf Krokfors & Barry Altschul – Around Again: The Music of Carla Bley – TUM, CD 054, 65:57 [2/15/19] *****:
Performing Carla Bley’s intricate music is not the easiest musical challenge. Which means Carla Bley tribute albums are a special achievement. Gary Burton issued a memorable 1976 Bley tribute, Dreams So Real: Music Of Carla Bley. Trombonist Shannon Gunn offered a live Bley homage this year in Washington, DC. The Mandala Octet and Mandala Orchestra presented an evening of Bley’s music in San Francisco in 2015. That same year, guitarist Rüediger Krause released A Guitar Named Carla, where he arranged Bley’s music for guitar. The latest Bley tribute is the 66-minute, 12-track Around Again: The Music of Carla Bley, which features Finnish pianist Iro Haarla, Finnish bassist Ulf Krokfors and American drummer Barry Altschul. Jazz fans probably know Altschul for his credits with Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea and—most importantly for this recording— Altschul’s work with Carla Bley’s former husband, Paul Bley.
Paul Bley’s 1965 LP, Closer, was an influence on Around Again. Closer had eight Carly Bley compositions and Haarla chose four of them for her Bley tribute project. Altschul was the percussionist on Closer as well as other records by Paul Bley which included Carla Bley pieces, many of which comprise the set list for Around Again. The trio ironically open with “Closer,” which has a sparse arrangement which emphasizes space, where single notes echo and linger, nearly doubling the length of Paul Bley’s rendition. Another beautiful track is the celebrated “Ida Lupino,” which Bley wrote as a tribute to the iconic actress and director; the composition was first heard on Closer. Many jazz artists have covered “Ida Lupino,” including Steve Kuhn, John Scofield and Burton. Haarla, Krokfors and Altschul deliver a radiant and lyrical translation which shifts from graceful to touchingly emotive. “And Now, the Queen,” (also from Closer) showcases Bley’s witty and restless perspective. Altschul is especially prominent on “And Now, the Queen,” where he illustrates his eclectic percussive style during an improvisation. Bley’s “Start” (which paradoxically is the next-to-last track on Around Again) is also from Closer and demonstrates the trio’s commitment to letting their musical imagination climb and blaze. During “Start,” the interaction between Haarla’s dissonant piano and Altschul’s roiling percussion is a wonder, as is Krokfors ability to sustain a high degree of stimulation. One of Bley’s lesser-known tunes is “Útviklingssang,” from her 1981 effort, Social Studies. Krokfors is the primary instrumentalist during this coursing cut, supplying an almost transcendent approach. During the second half of “Útviklingssang” Haarla takes the spotlight with a superb improvisation. The threesome conclude with “Jesus Maria” an early Bley composition done by the Jimmy Giuffre 3 on their 1961 LP, Fusion, which included Bley’s current partner, bassist Steve Swallow. Altschul, Krokfors and Haarla provide an adaptation which is elegant but also deftly harmonic and focuses on the piece’s spiritual mannerism. It’s fascinating to hear how modern and neo-contemporary Bley’s music can sound, despite some of them being over half a century old. Around Again: The Music of Carla Bley proves the versatility and cutting-edge nature of Bley’s music.
If possible, purchase Around Again on CD rather than digital download. The digipak has gorgeous art work by Finnish painter Ole Kandelin (a reproduction of “Lintuja (Birds),” 1946); perceptive liner notes by Haarla, Krokfors and Altschul; and an essay on Bley’s music by Amy C. Beal, who wrote a 2011 Bley biography; there is also an in-depth history of Bley’s compositions used on Around Again. Audiophiles will appreciate the lucid sound quality engineered and mixed by Risto Hemmi at Finnvox in Helsinki, Finland. The audio is luminous and brilliant.
Iro Haarla – piano; Ulf Krokfors – double bass; Barry Altschul – drums
Othos De Gato
And Now, the Queen