Posts Tagged ‘Carla Bley’

The Liberation Music Orchestra in London

26 November 2016

Obviously the Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra isn’t quite the same without Charlie Haden, who died two years ago. But equally, as Alan Shipton of Radio 3 noted before the start of their concert at Cadogan Hall last weekend, right now we need it more than ever.

The Orchestra was created in 1969, at the height of the protests against the Vietnam War, as a vehicle for Haden’s politics and music, and has toured and recorded off and on ever since, notably in the 2000s as a protest against the invasion of Iraq. The current band, under the leadership of Haden’s long-term collaborator Carla Bley, has just released a record on ecological themes, Time | Life, which was a work in progress when Haden died. The concert included material from this and from their 2004 recording Not In Our Name.

I love big bands, and the Liberation Music Orchestra is a big band: bass, drums, guitar, tuba, French horn, trombone, two trumpets, alto sax and two tenor saxes. Most of the musicians have been playing with the Orchestra for years. And then there’s the elfin figure of Bley, now 80, perched at the piano, standing from time to time to bring a song to a tidy close, or transition into a new one.

They are Carla Bley’s arrangements—Haden’s wife, Ruth Cameron, who introduced the band, said that Charlie could never imagine anyone else arranging the Liberation Music Orchestra’s work—and she has an unmatched ear for the timbres and textures of the jazz orchestra, in the same league as Gil Evans.

Some of the material on Time | Life goes back to the ’60s—Haden’s Song for the Whales and the Bley composition, Silent Spring, a response to Rachel Carson’s path-breaking polemic, both of which were part of the set at Cadogan Hall. There’s also a fine version of Miles’ Blue in Green, which the band opened with.

It wasn’t just me who found the material from Not In Our Name the most compelling on the night, with the scars of the recent Presidential election still fresh (Richard Williams’ review is here). The title track shares with Mingus’ Fables of Faubus the notion that protest should have a spring in its step and a smile on its face. Bley’s arrangement of Amazing Grace restores the simple power of the original. And the high point of the evening, without doubt, was the long medley of America The Beautiful/Life Every Heart And Sing/Skies of America, with drummer Matt Wilson shifting into a military mode in a long solo before the band returned to cacophonous discord. If it was designed to convey the idea that America has lost its way, it worked.

The band: Carla Bley, piano, conductor; Tony Malaby, tenor saxophone; Chris Cheek, tenor saxophone; Loren Stillman, alto saxophone, Michael Rodriguez, trumpet; Seneca Black, trumpet; Vincent Chancey, French horn; Marshall Gilkes, trombone; Earl McIntyre, tuba; Steve Cardenas, guitar; Darek Oles, bass; Matt Wilson, drums.

The concert was recorded for transmission on Radio 3 during December. 

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Eight horns and a rhythm section

21 June 2009

The line-up of the Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra is: three saxes (two tenor, one alto), two trumpets, a trombone, a french horn, and a tuba. And bass, guitar, drums, and piano. The core of the band, of course, is the bassist Charlie Haden and Carla Bley, who plays piano and arranges. The drummer Matt Wilson and sax player Tony Malaby have been touring with this edition of the band for a few years now. But at last night’s show at London’s Royal Festival Hall, part of Meltdown, it became clear early on (as Haden was reading out their names) that most of the horns were an English ‘pick-up’ band, although John Paricelli, on guitar, is a previous Carla Bley collaborator.

Perhaps for this reason, the first couple of songs were a little stiff, as the band betrayed a few signs of nerves. But Carla Bley’s arrangements are tight, lyrical, and free-wheeling, and the musicians quickly found their feet, a reminder of what fine musicians good jazz players are. Although Haden said at the start that they’d be playing tracks from all four Music Liberation Orchestra records (dating back to the Nixon era) much of the set was from the most recent, Not in Our Name, recorded in opposition to the Iraq war, which is like an oppositional conversation with American music. it has versions of Amazing Grace, Samuel Barber’s Adagio, and part of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, as well as a rich and complex interpretation of America the Beautiful. During this the wraith-like figure of Bley flitted from piano stool into the shadows of the stage and out again, emerging to make sure the band finished the songs cleanly.

Somewhere in the middle of this Robert Wyatt rolled on the stage – to huge audience applause – to sing in Spanish a Cuban song and also his lyrics to Haden’s own Song for Che, from the first Liberation Music Orchestra record. The end of the concert got a little bit chaotic – Haden hoped that Ornette Coleman, the director of this years’s Meltdown festival would join them on stage on the final weekend of the festival.

The pair share a 50-year history but Coleman missed his call at the hotel while Haden chopped the running order around (and extended We Shall Overcome with some improbable solos) to push America The Beautiful – their version incorporates the Coleman composition Skies of America – to the end of the programme in the hope of squeezing in a surprise appearance. In the end we had to make do with an emotional hug on the stage between the two musicians as the house lights went up.

The you tube performance at the top is of the Bill Frisell composition Throughout, from the 2003 tour of Europe. Tony Malaby is the sax soloist.

I’ve posted before about the Liberation Music Orchestra and Ornette Coleman.