Carla Bley at 80

Photo by Klaus Muempher
Photo by Klaus Muempher

As a pianist, Carla Bley plays exactly the right amount of notes.
Needless to say they’re also the right note choices, except when they are gorgeously and intentionally wrong. Her hands seem to fall upon these keys as if discovering them or like they were quite obviously the only ones worth considering.
I remember Bley’s comments last year, upon accepting an NEA Jazz Masters award:

“I asked my father, ‘Where does the music come from?’ He told me, ‘A composer wrote it.’ And I said, ‘I would like to do that.’ So I wrote hundreds of notes and he told me, ‘No, no, this is much to hard for me to play. Get rid of most of these notes.’ And so that was my first lesson.”

As a composer, Bley inspires from her fellow musicians a similarly correct sense of proportion—something beyond restraint or economy, and implying a grand sense of overall design, of form one can live satisfyingly within.
It’s not as if her music sounds perfect or that it seeks or achieves equilibrium. No, Bley’s music has always involved subtle subterfuge a gently off-kilter sensibility. It’s dramatic as well, but sneakily so, in ways that lure, not lurch, you into deep feeling.
Celebrating her 80th birthday with a brief and intimate concert at Manhattan’s Steinway Hall, Bley exuded a child’s wonder and an elder’s wisdom, both qualities coexisting in elegant balance, just as, say, dissonance and consonance do in her music.
Two of the pieces Bley peformed on Wednesday with saxophonist Andy Sheppard and bassist Steve Swallow (the latter, her partner in life as well as music for the past 25 years) were drawn from her finely crafted and yet casually charming new CD “Andando el Tiempo” (ECM). Continue reading “Carla Bley at 80”