Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow ‘Andando el Tiempo’ (ECM) 4/5

bley-sheppard-swallowIt is astonishing to think that in early May, pianist and composer Carla Bley celebrated her eightieth birthday. She has been part of the jazz landscape since the 1960s and has recorded with ECM and its off shoot labels for some forty years and counting. However, the current trio has been in existence for twenty years and the new recording is the follow-up to ‘Trio’ from 2013. As with its predecessor, there is a glorious feeling of space, arguably a defining characteristic that spans ECM recordings in general, and yet this small group environment marks a departure in Carla Bley’s general body of work that has focused on larger ensembles, with ‘Escalator over the hill’ from 1971, being a landmark album for both leader and label, and one that brought together disparate elements ranging from US big band to European serialism influences. Indeed, it both took on board the electric period of Miles Davis and incorporated rock and blues influences with guest appearances from Traffic’s Chris Wood and Manfred Mann’s Paul Jones among others. The main body of the music on offer on the new album is neatly divided up into a three-part suite that represents the varying stages of a fictional individual recovering from addiction with titles intriguingly in Spanish. Despite the heavy nature of the subject matter, the music itself is actually more optimistic in tone than one might expect. Part two in particular, ‘Potación de Gueya’, recounts in instrumental form the ongoing sorrow of everyone affected by the addiction and features some stunning sweet-sounding soprano saxophone from Andy Sheppard who excels throughout the album. On this most engaging of pieces, Bley plays a largely supportive role. Steve Swallow is that most supportive of bassists, but takes a well deserved solo intro riff to ‘Camino al volver’, the third and final part of the suite, where there is fine interplay between bass and piano before Sheppard tentatively enters on saxophone. The simplest of riffs creates the catchiest of melodies and a hallmark of this recording, as with the previous album, is the generosity of spirit between the trio members. Where the new and previous album depart, however, is that ‘Trio’ revisited older pieces in a new and more intimate setting whereas the latest recording features new and original compositions. A recent date at Ronnie Scott’s in mid-July will be followed up by a longer European tour, this following on in turn from an initial concert in New York. Well worth catching this trio in action if you can. A live album surely beckons at some point.

Tim Stenhouse