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CARLA BLEY

Jazz Rock/Fusion • United States


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Carla Bley biography
Carla Bley (born Carla Borg in 1936) first gained notice in the jazz world in the 1960s, as a free jazz pianist and as one of the organizers of the Jazz Composers' Orchestra, from which quite a few jazz notables got their start. Since then she has led various lineups of bands and combos, usually adding large amounts of experimentation to her works.

Notable to this site, Jack Bruce, Robert Wyatt and Nick Mason (who's Fictitious Sports album was actually a Carla Bley album) have all appeared on a number of her albums, many of which veer heavily into the rock and fusion territories.

Carla Bley official website

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Buy CARLA BLEY Music


TriosTrios
ECM 2013
Audio CD$11.80
$18.86 (used)
LiveLive
Import
Universal Japan 2012
Audio CD$16.77
$20.45 (used)
Very Big Carla Bley BandVery Big Carla Bley Band
Import
Ecm Import 2000
Audio CD$9.05
$2.84 (used)
Escalator Over the HillEscalator Over the Hill
Import
Ecm Import 2000
Audio CD$17.29
$13.98 (used)
Dinner MusicDinner Music
Watt Works / ECM Records 2000
Audio CD$10.76
$7.00 (used)
Fleur CarnivoreFleur Carnivore
Ecm 1994
Audio CD$27.95
$14.97 (used)
Big Band TheoryBig Band Theory
Ecm Records 1994
Audio CD$49.90
$5.69 (used)
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CARLA BLEY discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

CARLA BLEY top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.00 | 1 ratings
Jazz Realities
1966
4.47 | 11 ratings
Escalator Over the Hill (with Paul Haines)
1971
3.97 | 6 ratings
Tropic Appetites
1974
4.50 | 2 ratings
Dinner Music
1976
4.06 | 6 ratings
Musique Mecanique
1979

CARLA BLEY Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.86 | 3 ratings
European Tour 1977
1978
4.00 | 2 ratings
I Hate To Sing
1984

CARLA BLEY Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

CARLA BLEY Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

CARLA BLEY Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

CARLA BLEY Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Musique Mecanique by BLEY, CARLA album cover Studio Album, 1979
4.06 | 6 ratings

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Musique Mecanique
Carla Bley Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by schizoidman

4 stars Released in 1979, you might well ask: Does the music hold up? To my ears, mind and nervous system the answer is affirmative.

Is this Prog? If you like music that is adventurous and creative and experimental and innovative and has musicians locked in so tight with the material that the ensemble power of them at times gives you pause for happiness...if hearing music that you will hear nowhere else and catching the humor that is communicated through the sounds and hearing melodies and motifs that are relaxing and stimulating at the same time, then, Carla Bley's music is something you might want to check into at some point in your life.

There are a few voices on this album but not many. The only vocal per se is on Musique Mecanique ii (At Midnight).

If you Steely Dan fans ever wondered who Fagan and Becker were listening to when they were making music history fusing jazz and rock Carla is one of the answers (Weather Report and Keith Jarrett are a few others).

To be crystal clear: there is not much rock on this album. It's coming from a jazz/classical/avant garde/rock/human point of view. If you want a "21st Century Schizoid Man" it isn't here. There are echoes of classic albums like the Dan's "Aja", RTF's "Romantic Warrior", Weather Report's "Night Passage" and the work of Art Zoyd.

This is challenging music, so, be in the mood to be challenged when you hear it. Hope you enjoy it.

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 Escalator Over the Hill (with Paul Haines) by BLEY, CARLA album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.47 | 11 ratings

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Escalator Over the Hill (with Paul Haines)
Carla Bley Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by HolyMoly
Special Collaborator RIO/Avant/Zeuhl and Canterbury Teams

5 stars This album has fascinated me ever since I first read about it in the Rolling Stone Record Guide, back way before we had this wonderful Internet thingy. The album was described as some sort of magical universe, a completely unprecedented convergence of rock, jazz, avant garde, and surrealist theater. And yet, even that glowing writeup did not prepare me for the shock I got when I finally located a copy and listened with libretto in hand. 20 years later, it still amazes me. I consider it a high water mark in my collection, a monumental effort the likes of which have rarely been attempted, let alone equaled.

Carla Bley, along with a cast of close to 100 musicians in various groupings, as well as lyricist Paul Haines, released this 3-record set in 1971, the culmination of several years of work. The music alternates between big-band jazz (specializing in a cheesy cabaret vibe as befits the decadent hotel where the story takes place), psychedelic acid rock (with Jack Bruce, John McLaughlin, Paul Motian, and Bley forming a dream team of sorts), avant garde drones (described here as "phantom music", and used to make stark contrasts against the often busy music that occupies the majority of the album), and some stunning "desert music", a spine-chilling concoction of Don Cherry's abstract trumpet shrieks, woozy hand percussion, and a strange drone tapestry created from the seamless blending of violin, cello, and Moroccan clarinet.

Most of the tracks have vocals too, people from Don Preston (Mothers of Invention) to Paul Jones (Manfred Mann) to Jack Bruce (Cream) to Linda Ronstadt and even Carla Bley herself (not known as a singer, though to be fair, neither is Don Preston), and many more too numerous to mention, taking the mic at various points. Each singer plays a character in an absurd, somewhat frightening tale taking place inside a cheesy hotel full of low-life degenerates and their vices. Musical themes are introduced and revisited, the scenery shifts without notice, and the whole shebang is just one huge head-scratcher. I still don't know what it all means, but that's not really the point. The overall mood is one of almost complete loss of rationality, in a world where sense and morality have no place. It's dark comedy at its most surreal.

One of the most impressive things about this album is how it maintains a slowly climbing level of emotional intensity for the duration of its length, and just when you think you've heard all it has to offer, it offers one surprise after another. The entire first side of the 3 record set is the "Hotel Overture", a jazz big band arrangement of several of the musical themes that will pop up later. The highlight comes in the middle of the piece, where over a funeral cadence (later to be presented as the grim "Smalltown Agonist" on side three) we hear tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri take a solo cadenza that you won't soon forget. Weeping, shrieking, SCREAMING through his sax, it still makes my hair stand on end. Ironically, even though as an "overture" it's supposed to provide clues of what's to come, it's a pretty deceptive beginning to the album. I can imagine someone hearing it and coming to the conclusion that this is a jazz album. Ha! Just you wait.

On side two, the meat of the album begins. "This is Here..." opens with the "phantom music", a very long fade-in, with scary noises flying in and out of the mix. I believe these noises are actually the music from the END of the album, played backwards! Finally Carla intones the benediction in a spooky voice over spooky organ drones and voices. This is jazz? Then Don Preston (as the "Lion") sings the somber and brief "Like Animals", one of the most succinct and beautiful spots on the album - his role seems to be that of the "Tramp" in Shakespeare's plays -- the wise and humble outsider commenting, unseen, on the action. Then we get the clambering trainwreck of the title piece - "Escalator Over the Hill" often sounds like a drunken cabaret band - charging onward heavy-handedly, only to stumble and nearly fall every now and then, with multiple singers singing one-liners from within Cecil Clark's Hotel Lobby. Phantom music returns, and Carla Bley repeats the phrase "Stay Awake! Please! Stay Awake!" in increasingly frenzied tones. A brief vocal piece called "Ginger and David" introduces two more characters, a desperate pair of strangers fated to shack up together very soon. An instrumental reprise of the title track closes side two.

A brief fanfare opens side three, and then we get the electric rock band of Bruce, McLaughlin, Motian, and Bley ("Jack's Traveling Band" in the libretto) spewing bile about "Businessmen" in the lobby. After a reprise of "Ginger and David", Linda Ronstadt (as Ginger) sings the closest thing this album has to a conventional pop song, the pleading "Why". Despite it's fluffy veneer, the lyrics are rather grotesque, and Bley joins in towards the end to add to the confusion. Bley and Bruce duet on the chaotic and complex "Detective Writer Daughter". A small brass band plays a "Slow Dance". And the side ends on a most gloomy note, with Manfred Mann's Paul Jones singing deathly melodies and graphic lyrics of violence over funereal music in "Smalltown Agonist". Gato Barbieri returns with some mad saxophone in the fadeout.

Side four feels a bit less serious and more whimsical, although this ultimately proves to be even more ominous than before - as if acknowledging that things (in the story) couldn't really get worse. The music is light and playful, and although it gets melancholy, it doesn't get quite so doomy. "Over Her Head" is a confusing piece of music sung by Bley, never staying in one place too long. "Little Pony Soldier" features a remarkable Bruce vocal over a simple guitar figure. ""Holiday in Risk" returns to the schizo mood of "Over Her Head". Everything is getting all topsy turvy and it's hard to focus on reality anymore. It seems like things can't get any weirder. But there's still one record to go. On to side five, glorious side five...

There is a long, eerie fade-in, with odd sounds slowly making themselves known until we're fully into "A.I.R. (All India Radio)", the first time we've yet heard the incredible "desert band" of Don Cherry on the album. The sound of this grouping of musicians is unlike any I've heard. One of the few purely instrumental numbers on the album, it nonetheless makes its point absolutely clear: we have now taken the album to a new plane of consciousness, or perhaps unconsciousness - everything below us on sides one through four seems so small now from up here. Having shifted gears to terra incognita, we move onward to what is probably the centerpiece of the whole album, "Rawalpindi Blues". Jack's Traveling Band starts us off, with John McLaughlin taking an especially inspired guitar solo. Then unexpectedly, the song starts to decompose and morph into a return to Don Cherry's desert ensemble, a transition that really makes for one of the most surreal musical turns on the whole album - and it continues for what seems like ages, the remainder of the album side, a heartfelt cry of spiritual longing, with a bottomless reservoir of regret and sadness.

Side six is ostensibly a continuation of that track ("End of Rawalpindi"), but the mood is suddenly much brighter, with the rock band coming back to pep things up again. This continuation goes for a further nine minutes. As if reflecting on all that has happened in these emotional, confusing album sides, Don Preston returns for a reprise of "Like Animals" called "End of Animals". I just love the melody of that song. And then we're off into the big Finale: "....And it's Again" (by the way, the word "again" seems to be a recurring word/theme in this work). This track tries to pull everything together into one piece pulling musical themes and characters into a spiraling conclusion that seems to introduce more questions than answers. It lasts for about 9 minutes, but it seems to have no beginning, middle, or end, it just mixes all these things together into a confusing stew of words, phrases, musical links, all stirred in a woozy, circular pattern. Far from the cathartic climax we might have foolishly expected, this is everything regressing back into its infant form, eventually dwindling down to nearly nothing but a few disembodied voices and drones (which, remember, were played backwards for us to open "This is Here..."). The circular life cycle encompassing the album has completed. We are back where we started, and what the hell just happened?

And then everything is gone.

Except for a low buzzing hummmmmm, the "phantom music" with which we began our journey, lasting to infinity. A locked groove on the LP sees to that, unless you have the strength to pick up the needle. For those of you with CD or mp3 players (guilty!), the final track plays out this hum for approximately 20 extra minutes to replicate the experience of infinite hum. Don't worry, there are no surprise noises hidden in there, just an eerie hummmmm... and it's agaaiinnnnnn.

Awarding this five stars is a no-brainer for me. One of the best albums in my collection.

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 Tropic Appetites by BLEY, CARLA album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.97 | 6 ratings

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Tropic Appetites
Carla Bley Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by schizoidman

4 stars This is the first album I've heard by Carla Bley. Indeed, the first time I've heard any of her music. My instincts are classifying her in the same compartment of my mind as the legendary Zawinul/Shorter Weather Report work. Carla, of course, employed a far greater range of musicians creating a broader spectrum of work than Weather Report. But, imho, if you like one, you'll probably like the other.

1. "What Will Be Left Between Us and the Moon Tonight?" Great opening track. Love the intro with Carla's piano. Great piano/bass/percussion foundation for the horn players to lay out. The Latin flavored section that closes this piece really gave me a most pleasant surprise. Builds to an effective climax.

2. "In India" A short interlude with Julie Tippetts' voicing over minimal instrumentation. In a film I would say this piece serves the same purpose as landscape views giving the audience a sense of place.

3. "Enormous Tots" Opens with a Brecht/Weill cabaret. Lots of tempo changes. I prefer to think of Howard Johnson's voice contributions not as singing but as a kind of recitation of Haines' writing. Bawdy elements are present. Some seriously oppressive musical moments as well, probably drawn from some of the more risqué times he experienced in Southeast Asia, perhaps? Builds to an effective climax.

4. "Caucasian Bird Riffles" Beautiful. Simple. Well arranged. This is a song that could have been arranged as a powerful, bombastic piece, but wasn't.

5. "Funnybird Song" 1:20 of cuteness. In this piece Johnson doesn't sing in as much as he creates a likeable character to voice some funny words.

6. "Indonesian Dock Sucking Supreme" Somber intro, evolves numerous times into engaging sax/violin/keyboard/bass solo's. A lot going on in this piece. Numerous tempo and mood changes. Some serious improvisations over some serious structures. To my ears it succeeds perfectly as it segues imperceptibly into....

7. "Song of the Jungle Stream" Begins with voices. Gets orchestral. Settles into a song proper for a while. Evolves into some intelligently written dissonant notes. Jazz Opera comes to mind. Bass guitar moves to the forefront, voices reemerge. Polyrhythms, voices reemerge evolving into a satisfyingly calm and melodic conclusion.

8. "Nothing" The Brecht/Weill cabaret motif returns, evolving into a melodic section evolving into the Latin motif, evolving, changing, and resolving into the climax.

A serious work by a serious composer with serious musicians creating a work of substantial worth and enjoyment.

4 stars

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 Tropic Appetites by BLEY, CARLA album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.97 | 6 ratings

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Tropic Appetites
Carla Bley Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by HolyMoly
Special Collaborator RIO/Avant/Zeuhl and Canterbury Teams

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.

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 Musique Mecanique by BLEY, CARLA album cover Studio Album, 1979
4.06 | 6 ratings

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Musique Mecanique
Carla Bley Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by Evolver
Special Collaborator Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams

4 stars This is the album that made me a fan of Carla Bley's music. It was a combination of the adventurous compositions, and her ability to make me laugh with just musical notes that blew me away.

The music on this album falls somewhere in between big band and fusion, with an emphasis on horns. Terry Adams (NRBQ) on piano and Eugene Chadbourne on guitars add a bit of rock to the mix.

440 begins the album, with the band warming up, and then jamming in (you guessed it) the key of A. The piece bears a slight resemblance to The Piano Lesson on the later "I Hate To Sing" album, and it really turns into some fine soloing.

On Jesus Maria And Other Spanish Strains, the band goes through a number of Spanish themes. The best part is where Gary Windo imitates a childs voices (I think he's siging through the mouthpiece of his sax or clarinet, but I can't be sure).

The greatest tracks are the Musique Mecanique trio. The first starts with random tones and noises, and builds, machine-like into a frenzy. Bley's toy piano, her daughter karen mantler's glockenspiel, and Chadbourne's walkie-talkie noises help make this song amazing.

The absolute best song, and still my favorite Bley tune ever is the third part, a lumbering heavy track, which features the band imitating a skipping record (To you kids out there, a record is a vinyl disk, with music cut into spiral grooves. When a piece of dust got caught in a groove, the needle that turned the grooves into sound could get bumped back one groove, causing a weird skipping rhythmic sound). It must be heard.

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 European Tour 1977 by BLEY, CARLA album cover Live, 1978
3.86 | 3 ratings

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European Tour 1977
Carla Bley Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by Evolver
Special Collaborator Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams

4 stars Here is another cool album from Carla Bley and her band. This one is a live album, that features two familiar names here at Progarchives, Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper, both very well known from Soft Machine's fusion years.

The standout track is Wrong Key Donkey, the most fusion-filled song on the album. It's a hot electric jam, the only piece here that evokes Soft Machine in any manner. Rose And Sad Song and Drinking Music are wonderful as well. They are both composed big band pieces, that show off Bley's avant garde writing style. It's needless to say that the horn solos are exquisite.

The final track, Spangled Banner Minor And Other Patriotic Songs is hit or miss. It begins with a arrangement of the American national anthem played in a minor key (Who would have guessed from the title?), and devolves into a melange of well known (by us Americans,at least) tunes, many played over each other, some only slightly fleeting in and out of the song. It's an awkward song, that can be irritating if you are not in the right mood.

Three great songs, and one iffy one? Just barely makes 4 stars.

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 I Hate To Sing by BLEY, CARLA album cover Live, 1984
4.00 | 2 ratings

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I Hate To Sing
Carla Bley Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by Evolver
Special Collaborator Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams

4 stars Fans of Carla Bley's album released as "Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports" should enjoy this album. It has a similar tongue in cheek humor style, and while it is somewhat jazzier and less rock, it still has some great music.

Half was recorded live in concert, the other half live in a studio, much of the album showcases the band's ...errrr... singing ability.

The LP (yes, I only have the record - the CD apparently has extra material) begins with Bley herself singing about her impending Murder (don't worry, the police save her). The song is creepy and spooky, with an intentionally silly overblown ending. Pianist Arturo O'Farrill get to sing about wanting a vocal part that isn't Very Very Simple. It's a great song, but worth it for the drum solo alone. Then, drummer D. Sharpe gets to tell us that I Hate To Sing. It's priceless.

Side two is mostly instrumental, with The Piano Lesson, which builds from the band warming up into a raucus work made up of scales and etudes. The Lone Arranger follows, a loping piece depicting the American west. And Battleship, a wonderful work of progressive big band closes out the album.

While this album is just barely fusion, it is fantastic.

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 Escalator Over the Hill (with Paul Haines) by BLEY, CARLA album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.47 | 11 ratings

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Escalator Over the Hill (with Paul Haines)
Carla Bley Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by Evolver
Special Collaborator Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams

4 stars Jazz in opposition?

This somewhat early album from Carla Bley is one of her excursions into the realm of musical theater. The words were written by Paul Haines. While I must admit that I enjoy the lyrics in the context of each song, I never had the patience to attempt to figure out what is going on in the story.

Musically, Bley divides her big band into subsets, with some players bleeding over into different groupings. Primarily, there's the big band. Her compositions for the group are mostly extremely avant garde, often reminding me of groups like Henry Cow or the Art Bears, but with more horns. But there are many tracks that feature John McLaughlin on guitar, Jack Bruce on bass, Paul Motian on drums, with Bley on keyboards. These tracks are electric fusion jams that electrify the album.

Other notables on the album, aside from a number of well known jazz greats, are Don Preston (around the end of his Mothers of Invention tenure) and, believe it or not, Linda Ronstadt.

This album is a treat for those with an adventurous spirit.

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Thanks to evolver for the artist addition.

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