Friday, August 5, 2022

They Play Ms. Bley

I have been impressed by a number of new albums released this Summer that are soft in volume but musically and emotionally strong.  

The trio of Steve Cardenas (guitar), Ted Nash (tenor + soprano saxophones, clarinet), and Ben Allison (bass) have played on each other's albums and in live concerts for more than two decades. Nash and Allison were connected as founding members of the New York City-based Jazz Composers Collective (very active in the 1990s) while Cardenas began recording as a member of the bassist's group around the turn of the century.  As an ensemble, they've recorded three albums, 2018's "Quiet Revolution" (Sonic Camera, Allison's label), 2019s "Somewhere Else – West Side Story Songs" (Plastic Sax, Nash's label), and the recently released (July 2022) "Healing Power – The Music of Carla Bley" (Sunnyside Records, the label Cardenas records for). Their 2018 debut was dedicated to the music of reed master Jimmy Guiffre and his work with guitarist Jim Hall–the shape and sound of the lineup was perfect for an exploration of that composer's music and also worked really well for the Bernstein/Sondheim songs on the second recording..

For the trio's third release, they turn to Carla Bley whose unique musical stylings has kept listeners and critics entranced and guessing for over five decades.  She has led numerous ensembles including both a small and large big band as well as, most recently, a trio with bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard.  Her music reveals all sorts of influence but Ms. Bley has always a penchant for smartly-crafted melodies. The songs on "Healing Power" come from throughout the composer's career; not only do Messrs. Cardenas, Nash, & Allison do the music justice, they make the songs their own.  The nine-song program opens with one of her most famous pieces "Ida Lupino".  Composed in 1964 and first recorded by her-then husband Paul Bley, the music is quite introspective and has a lovely melody.  Allison's quiet bass lines creates a perfect foundation for the solos.

Photo: Ludovico Granvassu
The second track, "Donkey", is even older (1962) and swings nicely with a be-bop line worthy of Charlie Parker. With the exception of "Lawns" and the title track (both from 1987), all the tracks are from the mid-1960s.  The music shows both the composer's versatility and her willingness to carve out her own compositional space in the fertile Creative Music scene.  The listener should be thrilled by the mysterious and emotional "Olhos de Gato" (listen below) as well as the playful "King Korn" (both pieces that feature Nash on clarinet).  The former has a Spanish "tinge"(a hint of flamenco) plus splendid short  solos from all three musicians. Meanwhile, the latter track has a sweet bluesy feel–the main "body" of the piece is a three-way conversation that is bright, musical, with a touch of humor.

The program closes with the blues-drenched title track; note the interaction of the bass and guitar on Cardenas's sweet solo plus how Nash "gets down" over the sympathetic background.  Yes, "Healing Power" just might cure what ails the world (ah, we can dream) but this soft yet dynamic session will make you smile as it reminds you just how impressive a composer Carla Bley has been through her long and continuing career.  Kudos to Steve Cardenas, Ben Allison, and Ted Nash!!

For more information about the trio, go to  To hear more and purchase the album, go to

Hear them play "Olhos de Gato":

Here's the title track:

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