June 2007

Carla Bley, Steve Swallow & The Art of Jazz Orchestra
Art of Jazz Celebrations
June 2, 2007 Pure Spirits Stage Distillery District Toronto
Leaving Out the 3rd
by David Fujino with photo by Roger Humbert
In a morning Q&A session, composer Carla Bley spoke about the early influence of the church on her music and how, as a little girl, she had always heard the singing of church choirs.

We loved the first composition, "On the Stages in Cages", which moved between church-like brass and slow, eccentric marches. Amidst its shifting, densely orchestrated sections, Gary Valente's gritty-toned trombone was the point of connection. Valente is a veteran soloist in Bley's orchestras.

"Awful Coffee" entirely changed the mood. (By the way, you could write an entire report just on Carla Bley's titles.) Jumpy octaves glided into a flowing swing and Don Thompson's solo on vibes grew absolutely jubilant. Then Steve Swallow and Terry Clarke laid down a suitably loping rhythm as that wonderfully satirical mind of Carla Bley revealed itself in the way she blended her brass and reed sections. It made you smile (knowingly).

Besides the consistently driven solos from Kevin Turcotte (trumpet), Andy Ballantyne (alto sax), Gary Valente (trombone), John Johnson (alto sax), Steve Swallow (bass guitar), and Howard Johnson (tuba and baritone saxophone), what struck me was that the eight Bley compositions this afternoon sounded so American.

Just like the different regions that make up the United States, each section of Bley's compositions had its own distinctive tone, accent, and rhythm. She has sensed the different landscapes, the idiosyncrasies of people, the atmospheres of cities and their tempos of living, and has translated it all into her music.

Carla Bley
In "Who'll Remember You?" church hymns and deep-voiced trombone choirs spoke of an earlier, less complicated time. Alto soloist John Johnson really dug in, threading his way through the changing music; then Valente re-entered with a robust bang and turned the piece into a positive, spirit-affirming hymn.

The afternoon ended appropriately enough with Valente leading off on Bley's arrangement of the sweet/sad Charles Mingus blues, "Goodbye, Porkpie Hat". After a trombone trio's reharmonizing of the theme, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte came out blazing in a state of impassioned blues saying. This touching homage to Lester Young then resolved into the peaceful sounds of the church.

While Bley mostly limited herself to playing arranger's piano, she'd frequently get up from the piano bench and conduct the Art of Jazz Orchestra with precise hand movements; at other times, with the flick of a wrist, she'd bring two horns together on the same note.

This was a special treat, to experience the music of Carla Bley. It was an equal treat to hear Steve Swallow and Howard Johnson, and the Art of Jazz Orchestra.

What a lot of inspired music.

The musicians
Carla Bley — piano
Steve Swallow — bass guitar

David Restivo — organ
Don Thompson — vibraphone
Jorge ‘Papiosco’ Torres — congas
Terry Clarke — drums

Kevin Turcotte — trumpet
Jason Logue — trumpet
Alex Brown — trumpet
Brian O’Kane — trumpet

Gary Valente — trombone
William Carn — trombone
Al Kay — trombone
Gord Myers — bass trombone

Andy Ballantyne — alto saxophone
John Johnson — alto saxophone
George Garzone — tenor saxophone
Quinsin Nachoff — tenor saxophone
Jane Bunnett — soprano saxophone
Howard Johnson — tuba and baritone saxophone

Listen to this concert @ CBC Radio 2 – Concerts On Demand.
We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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