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Carla Bley's bands are always a mix of strong musical personalities, distinguished by what they bring to the music beyond just their chops. This octet, recorded in Oslo during a 1999 European tour, is more than just a scaled-down version of her recent big band, retaining crucial soloists like altoist Wolfgang Puschnig and trombonist Gary Valente, as well as gaining the looseness of a smaller ensemble. Bley is both a Romantic and an ironist, capable of wit broad and sly and music serene and turbulent. "Blues in 12 Bars" covers many shades of funk, including a Charles Mingus paraphrase and some playfully disparaging gospel, all propelled along by Victor Lewis's backbeat. "Sidewinders in Paradise" has a lounge-Latin quality that includes trumpeter Lew Soloff's direct reference to "Strangers in Paradise," while "Baseball" brings out the ballpark side of Larry Goldings's organ and stadium-scale bluster from Valente.
The centerpiece is the three-part suite "Les Trois Lagons." Inspired by three of Henri Matisse's paper cutouts from the book Jazz, it's knit together by Bley's Monk-like piano. The middle section has all the harmonic richness of a Strayhorn ballad and some moving solo work by electric bassist Steve Swallow and tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard. The same pair work more magic on the luminously beautiful "Utviklingssang." --Stuart Broomer
Top customer reviews
Carla Bley's wonderful disc 4 x 4 is a case in point. Laced with musical mischief, playfulness, and gentle deconstruction, it's smart, hip, and lively without sounding in the least pretentious or condescending. It's also full of sly pop-culture references, such as the quote from "Strangers in Paradise" at the end of "Sidewinders in Paradise." But it's all done with such lightheartedness and aplomb that there's no posturing, just good fun.
There's also a lot of smart playing. I especially like Andy Shepherd's swinging solo on part one of "Les Trois Lagons." Shepherd, a brilliant young English tenor saxophonist and bandleader of note, is not much heard or regarded on this side of the Atlantic. I also like Steve Swallow's lead electric bass playing on part two of the same number. Larry Goldings on organ also impresses throughout. I really like this eight-member unit, pared down from her usual big band. There's a nimbleness and flexibility here lacking in the larger ensemble.
Perhaps not the most important jazz album, but still lot's of good listening here.