Celebrating the iconic composer, arranger, bandleader, pianist Carla Bley, the trio album Around Again fascinates as a quiet beauty of playful mystery and soulful contemplation. These twelve stylistically unpredictable pieces from her early songbooks are sparsely delivered with tempered grace by Finnish rhythm partners pianist Iro Haarla and acoustic bassist Ulf Krokfors along with intuitive drummer Barry Altschul, who played many of these tunes with Carla’s former husband Paul Bley in the early sixties. The collective trio fully engages in each tune as improvisers and partners expressing the delight and drama of Bley’s “culture of spontaneity” compositions, allowing each other an abundance of space between thoughtful notes.
Recorded in Finland in November 2015, the album opens with “Closer,” a tender reflection that was first recorded by Paul Bley in 1965 and was subsequently covered by several artists including drummer Paul Motian, guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist John Surman on the 1986 album Fragments. Highlights include the trio’s grand with-a-touch-of-melancholy rendering of “Ida Lupino,” which is Bley’s most popular composition, having been covered on nearly 50 albums. Other standouts include the whimsical “King Korn”(originally recorded as an improvisational tune for Sonny Rollins, though he never recorded it) plus “And Now, the Queen,” with its catchy melodic line and tasty Altschul solo that contemporary players Nels Cline and Kirk Knuffke have each recorded.
Bley may not be as visible these days (she’s 83 and lives in Woodstock, New York with her longtime partner bassist Steve Swallow), but her legacy as one of the most important post-bop, free jazz composers is given deserved clarity on Around Again, one of early 2019’s best recordings.
Haarla, Krokfors & Altschul, Around Again (TUM Records)