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Carla Bley: 4X4

In the summer of ’99, Carla Bley toured Europe with a stripped-down version of her big band, an octet that included Bley regulars such as bassist Steve Swallow, trombonist Gary Valente and drummer Victor Lewis. Between gigs, the ruddy and no doubt road weary outfit took a time-out in Oslo to record 4×4. Bley and the band sound happy to have the time to themselves, and they mostly take it easy on light-hearted tunes with fun but simple arrangements.

The recording opens with two gregarious if undemanding 12-bar blues that catch the band in high spirits. That no one bothered to slap a title on them, however, attests to their somewhat throwaway status. Bley and band follow that up with “Sidewinders in Paradise,” which sounds exactly like one would expect with such a title: a breezy boogaloo that sends Lee Morgan to the tropics. Trombone and flute solos only add to the humidity. “Baseball” flirts with kitsch, stadium organ licks and all, but also gives organist Larry Goldings a chance to step up for a few bars. The band only settles in midway through for the moody “Les Trois Lagons (d’apres Henri Matisse),” the most enjoyable piece on the entire disc.

Originally Published