In a year of patriotism run riot, leave it to composer, pianist, and bandleader Carla Bley to take a look for the heart of what makes it tick -- and what it means to be an Americanski. The Bley Big Band hadn't been around for a while, and this outing is a welcome return. Featuring soloists Lew Soloff, Gary Valente, the remarkable Andy Sheppard, and Wolfgang Puschnig, this most Yankee band goes through the mysterious humor of Bley's sense of irony, harmony, and history to find out where the soul of America lies: in its music, its humor, its over-inflated vision of itself, its funkiness, its innovation, its blindness and crass gift for overstatement, or all of the above. Here, the nearly 22-minute "National Anthem" (comprised of a suite of short pieces with titles such as "OG Can UC?," "Whose Broad Stripes?," "Keep It Spangled," etc.) quotes from America's musical past, including "America the Beautiful," both football and military marches (is there a difference?), swing tunes, Dixieland, pop, and country & western, to state with verve that America is best viewed through the lens of a telescope. "Fast Lane" relies on a hard swinging bebop melodic figure to kick its reed and wind heavy harmonics into gear. The rhythm section chops it down and builds it up again as the horns play startling counterpoint. There are four tracks with the word "mother" in them, and all feature various aspects of that eternal mother Lady Liberty as well as moms everywhere. In "Los Cocineros" and "Tijuana Traffic," you have to wonder which way the American tide is flowing, to or from South of the borderline. Song figures worthy of Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass meet complex Cuban and mariachi rhythms and harmonics in intervallic motions of line and impression. The set ends with the most bluesed-out read of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" in the history of American popular music. Soloff plays the grit and sweat in both the blues and the barnyard with his opening statement. Stan Kenton would have been proud of this arrangement with its funky rhythmic structure, interwoven solos, and bassline harmonic architecture that expands as the tune goes. Looking for America is a fun, innovative, and indefatigable album by one of the true geniuses in modern jazz.
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