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Carla Bley - Tropic Appetites CD (album) cover


Carla Bley


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.08 | 8 ratings

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4 stars Jazz composer and pianist Carla Bley achieved something utterly wonderful and unprecedented with 1972's Escalator Over the Hill, an album that has achieved legendary status in certain circles. Much less known is this 1974 follow up album, though it works as a very strong sequel to that work, and may be of even more interest to prog rock fans, as this is essentially a Rock in Opposition album.

Whereas Escalator was stuffed to the gills with guest musicians, huge ensembles, multiple musical styles and vocalists, and a surreal theatrical plot, this album keeps things compact and simple. Using just a relatively small core of musicians (Paul Motian, Gato Barbieri, Dave Holland, Michael Mantler, Bley herself, and Julie Tippets and Howard Johnson on vocals) and filling up a single LP instead of three, Bley's compositions are nevertheless dense, complex, and very much in the style (if not the scope) of what she had composed for Escalator. Bley retained Paul Haines to provide the lyrics, as he had done on Escalator, but this time around these are simply song lyrics, rather than the full-blown libretto, characters, and theatricality of that album.

The 11 minute opener, "What Will Be Left Between Us and the Moon Tonight?", is a relatively straight jazz instrumental, serving as the album's unofficial overture. The lengthy vocal tracks which take up the majority of the album - "Enormous Tots", "Caucasian Bird Riffles", "Indonesian Dock Sucking Supreme" (one of my favorite song titles ever), and "Song of the Jungle Stream" - are very much in the Rock-in-Opposition style, reminding me most of albums like Henry Cow's "In Praise of Learning", brooding yet colorful, and harmonically unsettling. In the middle of all this is an adorable little childrens' song entitled "Funnybird Song", which does a great job of relieving the tension.

Bley is primarily known as a jazz figure, and most of her illustrious career certainly falls into that category, but at least for a few years in the let 60s and early 70s, she was putting out music very akin to the more avant garde strains of contemporary progressive rock. This album is a very impressive example of that, and while it can't hope to match the insane brilliance of the prior masterpiece, it also benefits from a focus and consistency that Escalator lacks. Recommended to RIO fans.

HolyMoly | 4/5 |


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