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Listening

Carla Bley & Charlie Haden

An omnivore's taste for music leads one down a path--from Mingus and Hanrahan--to today's contemporary jazz artists, who together have played with more than anyone's share of innovators, country musicians included.

Book Digest How I became a literary omnivore remains as much a mystery to me as having the same predilections in the musical realm—I have always gravitated to music and musicians whose influences were an ever-expansive wellspring of sounds and composers: Charles Mingus, early Frank Zappa, Harry Partch, Tom Zé, and in later years Hal Wilmer, Kip Hanrahan, and Carla Bley (Escalator Over the Hill).

On Appearing Nightly, Bley continues to make wonderful, interesting music drawing from all manner of sources and inspirations. Read her notes to her new recording, which make her free association and penchant for “sampling” obvious as she describes quoting six songs with food titles in one chorus (“Salt Peanuts,” “You’re the Cream in My Coffee,” “Watermelon Man,” “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” “Hey, Pete Let’s Eat More Meat,” and “Tea for Two”). In addition to Bley and her sidemen’s taut musicality and instrumental virtuosity, there is a patina of exuberance Bley attaches to her projects. Having fun is not a bad ingredient to feature in performance. The Carla Bley Band provides a more than sufficient amount.


From Carla Bley to Ornette Coleman to the Liberation Orchestra to Pat Metheny, bassist Charlie Haden has played with more than anyone’s share of musical innovators. Born in the Ozarks, as a child Haden appeared on his family’s daily country-music radio program, which despite his deep involvement in contemporary jazz has always remained part of his overview:
Most jazz musicians are born in big cities. I’m glad I was born in the Ozarks and exposed to country music. It left a deep impression in my soul. It’s in everything I do.
In addition to his wife, singer Ruth Cameron, and some of his children, the various friends on his most recent album, Rambling Boy, includes Jack Black (his son-in-law), Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Bruce Hornsby, and Elvis Costello. It’s not what you would expect from a titan of jazz music, but then again Charlie Parker played for bar mitzvahs. As the great Thomas “Fats” Waller observed, “One never know, do one.”
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