This 1990 recording found Carla Bley at the helm of an 18-piece big band and signaled a return of sorts to a more traditional jazz sound than had been evidenced on many of her albums of the '80s, which had ventured more often into jazz-rock and funk territories. Also missing, however, was the imagination and risk-taking that characterized her masterworks of the '70s, Escalator Over the Hill and Tropic Appetites. The result is a fairly solid, if slightly bland, date that may cause the listener to pine for her earlier "excesses." There are still some Bley trademarks to be encountered: a quote from Thelonious Monk here, a touch of tango there, perhaps a hint of a march surfacing now and then. The overriding spirit, though, seem to be Charles Mingus, whose harmonies and pacing are echoed in a number of pieces, even if his earthiness and passion are lacking. The band has its share of fine musicians, both as soloists and ensemble players, including longtime comrade Gary Valente on trombone, trumpeter Lew Soloff, and Andy Sheppard on tenor and soprano sax, who provide some strong work throughout. Steve Swallow's virtuoso electric bass, sounding for all the world like an ultra-soft electric guitar, is given a very pretty spot in the opening selection, "United States." But in the end, Bley's themes and structures tend more toward the competent than the stirring or memorable, leaving one desirous of the richer fare that she has served in the past.
AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick