Iro Haarla, Ulf Krokfors & Barry Altschul: Around Again (TUM)

A review of an album of Carla Bley's music performed by a trio

Around Again
Cover of Around Again by Iro Haarla, Ulf Krokfors & Barry Altschu

Around Again is an album of Carla Bley music, performed by two Finns and an American. Given Bley’s towering stature as a composer, it is surprising that there have not been more complete albums dedicated to her work. (The most cited is Closer, from 1966, by Carla’s ex-husband Paul Bley. The best is Dreams So Real, from 1976, by Gary Burton.)

Bley’s mysterious melodies linger in the mind. Pianist Iro Haarla plays them with a respect that stops short of reverence because, in keeping with Bley’s own whimsical aesthetic, she is free with them. Haarla marks out Bley’s forms with a focus both meticulous and passionate, then wanders apart from them, as Bley’s haunting reveries inspire her own.

Most of the songs are from the 1960s. Many of Bley’s most famous pieces are here: “Ida Lupino,” “Jesus Maria,” “Intermission Music.” Five of the tunes appeared on Closer, on which Barry Altschul was the drummer. Altschul’s feeling for Bley’s music, over 50 years deep, is apparent on “And Now, the Queen,” a four-bar composition with shifting meters; he takes the second chorus and plays not meters but the spare theme, with complex variations. “Olhos de Gato” is an example of how this trio shares creative responsibilities. Altschul’s brooding drums open it. Haarla plays intermittent, ambiguous chords. Ulf Krokfors leads and sings the song, darkly, on bass. Haarla is unselfish but still the star. She is beautifully patient with Bley’s pieces. “Ida Lupino” is a dead-slow ritual. Haarla repeats its melancholy melody, then fragments it, then causes it to coalesce again.

The production values of the TUM label are state-of-the-art. Around Again comes with excellent sound and a 29-page booklet full of useful information and gorgeous photographs.

Dreams So Real is no longer the best Carla Bley tribute album.

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