Not everything Carla Bley has done has been artistically successful, but much of it has -- and the imaginative, good-humored pianist/organist/composer certainly deserves credit for daring to take so many risks. Bley's risk-taking serves her quite well on Social Studies, an unorthodox and adventurous pearl that is as rewarding as it is cerebral. Highlights of this LP range from "Reactionary Tango" (an abstract take on Argentinian music) to the melancholy "Utviklingssang" to the angular quasi-hard bop number "Walking Batteriewoman." This time, Bley leads a nonet, and the star soloists include Carlos Ward (soprano and alto sax), Tony Dagradi (tenor sax, clarinet), Gary Valente (trombone), and frequent allies Michael Mantler (trumpet) and Steve Swallow (electric bass). Bley doesn't allot herself much solo space, but the results are appealing when she does.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson