Carla Bley/Steve Swallow: Are We There Yet?

The evidence indicates that Steve Swallow is a travelin’ man: this release was recorded on the road in the course of a month’s tour of Europe. To call him a journeyman bassist would fall far short of his due: His is an irrepressible musical personality that suffuses any piece he touches. He has cultivated a unique sound, finding character in the bass guitar that few players can even imagine.

Bley on piano is by no means a virtuoso, leaving the solo chores to Swallow-certainly not a bad thing, in and of itself. And Bley plays like the composer that she is, with a wry sense of humor and a comprehensive sense of intent that gives its piece both intellectual and emotional weight. The conceit of “Major,” built around an all major chord progression, is deftly carried off, and her suite “Musique Mechanique” structures stock atmospherics in a manner that is at once catchy and droll. Their treatment of Weill’s “Lost in the Stars” is lovely, and Swallow’s “Satie for Two” seems to connect the dots between the classical impressionists, Thelonious Monk and this pair of musical fellow travelers. Swallow’s pulsing walk even makes Bley’s “King Korn” seem to swing! The verdict is that Steve Swallow is very good company on the road.