Fancy Chamber Music

COMPOSERS: Carla Bley
LABELS: WATT/ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Carla Bley
PERFORMER: Carla Bley (p), Steve Morris (vn),Andrew Byrt (vla), Emma Black (cello), Steve Swallow (b), Alison Hayhurst (f), Sara Lee (cl), Chris Wells (perc)
CATALOGUE NO: 539 937-2 (distr. New Note)

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Carla Bley first collaborated with classical musicians after the director of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society asked her to write down ‘some riffs’ he heard her play at Fat Tuesday’s. Since then she has accumulated a repertoire of music written for a mixed group of improvising and non-improvising players.

This disc collects six favourite pieces written across 12 years and, despite the composer’s disingenuous claim that it’s no more than a lark, here is work of gentle drama and poignancy. The music succeeds where jazz with classical aspirations so often fails because Bley’s writing involves the full ensemble. There’s no question of simply clipping ‘non-improvisors’ on to a jazz trio: strings cross-hatch Swallow’s louring bass; clarinet and flute commune in the foreground when the leader’s piano lines tiptoe into the distance.

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Favourite Bley motifs such as the tango and waltz recur, but the whole is cliché-free and the jokes are restricted to the booklet notes. Fancy Chamber Music is a very welcome, and brass-free, addition to the third stream canon. GB