CD Review: Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow – Trios

Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow – Trios
(ECM 372 4551. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Drawing on what she herself refers to as a ‘huge book of music’ amassed, over the last 20 years, by her trio with partner Steve Swallow(bass) and Andy Sheppard (saxophones), pianist/composer Carla Bley played ‘one tune after another’ in the studio, recording only the selections that producer Manfred Eicher wished to include on this album, which, courtesy of this process, functions as a sort of retrospective survey of past Bley work.

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Even the running order surprised her: ‘… starting with “Utviklingssang” [“Development Song”], which we’d normally play after a few fast numbers, or as an encore’ she calls one of his ‘wild ideas’, but the resultant album, for which this ‘hushed, modal masterpiece’ (Stereophile magazine), in all its elegant, deeply affecting, earnest simplicity, sets the tone, has been fashioned thereby into a quintessential ECM production (all previous Bley releases having appeared on JCOA and WATT): considered, poised, assured, unshowy.

The rest of the programme, despite spanning over four decades of Bley’s compositional life (‘Vashkar’ first appeared on a Paul Bley album – also featuring Swallow – in 1963; ‘Les Trois Lagons’, inspired by the work of Henri Matisse, in 1996; ‘Wildlife’ and ‘The Girl Who Cried Champagne’ in the mid-1980s), addressed as it is by three supremely sensitive, responsive musicians – Swallow nimbly picking out his uniquely deft and sonorous bass-guitar sound, Sheppard breathing intense warmth and humanity into everything he plays, Bley herself delicate and understated, yet subtly controlling the trio sound – is, as Bley suggests. ‘quite serious’ and ‘rather nostalgic’, yet none the less enjoyable for that, courtesy principally of the typically unfussy manner in which she approaches it: ‘We just play the music and take some solos.’

The trio’s LJF appearance at the Wigmore Hall (24 November) should be a real treat. (TICKETS)

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