Carla Bley / Andy Sheppard / Steve Swallow

Life Goes On

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Life Goes On Review

by Matt Collar

The fourth recording from pianist Carla Bley's long-running trio with saxophonist Andy Sheppard and bassist/partner Steve Swallow, 2020's Life Goes On, is an intimate and lyrical album built solidly around the group's deep musical connection. Produced by ECM's Manfred Eicher, the record arrives four years after the equally compelling Andando el Tiempo and finds Bley and her cohorts in a relaxed mood. Where Andando el Tiempo was a deeply poetic, classical-leaning recording, Life Goes On is more casual in tone. The album consists of three multi-part works that serve as loosely connected thematic ideas. The first work and title track, "Life Goes On," is a laconic, friendly blues that Bley sets up for Swallow and Sheppard to then join in with a playful call-and-response interplay. That is followed in the series by "On," a languid Thelonious Monk-esque piece built around a steadily descending chordal pattern. The third movement in the piece, "And On," is played with dusky resonance by Sheppard and brings to mind a reworked take on John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Similarly, the final movement, "And Then One Day," also draws upon the modern jazz tradition, evoking the rolling, minor-key atmosphere of the standard "On Green Dolphin Street." From there, they delve into the three-part "Beautiful Telephones," a spare, woozy piece that finds the trio draping each other in long noirish lines. The album's closing work, "Copycat," is more off-the-cuff as Bley sets up a lively thematic statement that Swallow and Sheppard then repeat in a jaunty, birdlike game of group improvisation. It's a nuanced game Bley and her trio have been playing for over 20 years, and one that never fails to uncover unexpected musical delights.

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