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Carla Bley - Social Studies CD (album) cover


Carla Bley


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.21 | 5 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Frankly I don't know much about Carla Bley, American free jazz pianist and composer. The artist bio tells that her music often contains experimentalism -- which is not necessarily my cup of tea -- and that she's worked with e.g. Robert Wyatt, Jack Bruce and Nick Mason, whose Fictitious Sports album is in practice Bley's work. Nor have I ever listened to a Bley album before; what an interesting starting point to review one of her numerous albums. On Social Studies Carla Bley (organ, piano; all compositions) is accompanied by a rhythm section and six musicians playing various wind instruments. Nice and clever cover, by the way.

The opener 'Reactionary Tango' (12:52) is the longest track; other five tracks are between 4 and 7 minutes. The dance-like rhythm structure forms the basis, on top of which the trumpet, trombone, saxes and other wind instruments play almost as in a dialogue, with quick, little piano melodies thrown in here and there. This harmlessly playful and mildly humorous composition actually feels a bit too long since the changes along the way aren't very big. Even the soprano sax solo remains rather restricted. But towards the end it begins to feel more interesting as the organ makes me think of the early 70's Soft Machine. To me this music seems closer in spirit to the early British jazz/fusion with some continental flavour than typical American jazz. 'Copyright Royalties' is also temperate and easy-going. Maybe there won't be much experimental twist on this album at all? Nor there seems to be more lively jazz groove.

'Útviklingssang' (is that Norwegian?) is a moody piece in a slow tempo. Alto sax has the biggest role in it. 'Valse Sinistre' is another composition based on a dance rhythm, and it's not exactly sinister. 'Floater' starts cautiously in a "where do we go from here?" -manner but gets slightly livelier. Bass is great here. If you know the Finnish jazz scene of the 70's, this music could be compared to Henrik Otto Donner. The final piece 'Walking Batteriewoman' has the fastest and edgiest melodies. Tenor sax has references to be-bop, I guess.

How did I like this album? First, it was less experimental or difficult than I was prepared to hear, which is positive. But on the other hand it was also a bit duller than I expected. I like the overall feel: temperate, intelligent, witty, gentlemanly and mildly playful and unpredictable. The brass-oriented arrangement is surely not up to my jazz taste, and I naturally can't say how recommendable it is as a Carla Bley album. The All Music Guide rates it among her best ones at 4˝ stars, but I was impressed only worth three stars.

Matti | 3/5 |


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