on July 7, 2003
As Carla Bley herself says, "The timing couldn't have been worse." 21 minutes of this (59-minute) album are taken up by a suite based around "The Star Spangled Banner"; the album was actually released as US forces assailed Iraq, not exactly a great time to be flagwaving, even with a dose of Carla Bley's characteristic irony. In the event the suite is a rather unsettling mix of cheerfully jaunty grooves & some darker sequences, notably the moody setpiece for Andy Sheppard's tenor & the following free-jazz uproar which leads to a rather mystifying interpolation of "O Canada". The piece ends fittingly on an ambiguous & downbeat moment: a rousing & mostly "straight" (though mildly harmonically tweaked) statement of the national anthem is interrupted by a very dark response led by Gary Valente's trombone, & the piece then completely deflates, the final phrase of the national anthem delivered in a barely-audible pianissimo. I imagine that the interpretation of the piece's import & success will vary wildly with each listener, which is as it should be.
The rest of the album is something of a grab bag of snippets & finished items from Bley's workshop--four lovely miniatures that are all that remains of a failed attempt at a large-scale work, "The Mother"; bits & pieces from various commissions that didn't pan out (e.g. an album of traditional & children's songs that never came to fruition--the result is a peppy setting of "Old Macdonald Had a Farm"); a bop workout called "Fast Lane"; a nice Latin ballad, & a weird takeoff of Mexican music called "Tijuana Traffic" (which has a startlingly dissonant interlude in the middle which is neither prepared for nor resolved, simply starts & stops; the rest is merry south-of-the-border pastiche). It's all worth hearing, but somehow this strikes me as too bitty an album, & too dependent on the listener's being attuned to Bley's musical & ironic sensibility, to rank with her strongest work. Still, definitely worth a listen, not least for the memorably weird reworking of the national anthem.
on January 12, 2012
N. Dorward's review does not really require this correction, does it? Surely nobody who has ever heard Carla Bley's music needs to be told that there are no circumstances under which she could ever flag-wave for an immoral war without irony--right? This CD's title alone makes that clear. Like her Liberation Music Orchestra co-founder Charlie Haden, Ms. Bley loves America far too much, too deeply, and too intelligently to ever become one of its knee jerks. Indeed, LOOKING FOR AMERICA is one of her clearest, and best, statements to that effect. On the day she becomes a flag-waver, Hell will be considerably colder than a Toronto winter.
This is one of the very best CDs yet from a talent the size of Duke Ellington or Frank Zappa.