Irony & (/or?) patriotism
N. Dorward | Toronto, ON Canada | 07/08/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"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."