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Carla Bley Big Band: Goes to Church

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Perhaps Bley decided to balance this exceptional new release with the reissued I Hate To Sing, which came out rather simultaneously. In this instance Bley’s largely European big band, augmented with American ringers like drummer Dennis Mackrel, trumpeter Lew Soloff, passion playing trombonist Gary Valente and Carla’s ever-present partner and trailblazing bass guitarist Steve Swallow, plies its considerable craft over three evenings at Umbria Jazz. One of Umbria’s most striking venues is the church ruin Chiesa San Francesco Al Prato, where performances generally hit at midnight and where the Bley band was doubtless right at home.

Befitting the setting, the music bears resemblance to what one might expect from an enlightened 21st century church service, particularly in the case of “Exaltation/Religious Experience/Major,” which follows the call to order of Setting Calvin’s “Waltz” (something for all those Calvinists in the audience?). “Beads” could well serve as the sermon, while the joyous closer “Who Will Rescue You?” is an apt benediction cum hallelujah chorus.