Pianist, composer and conductor Carla Bley returns to the big band format after releasing two small group dates; The Lost Chords (2004) and The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (2007) for this record label. And her voluminous discography spanning back to the late ‘60s signifies her revered presence and irrefutably distinct voice within the annals of modern jazz. Recorded over two nights at a Paris venue, Bley’s inspiration for this outing emanates from her youth, when big bands appeared regularly in New York City complete with the smoke-filled environs and so forth. Sadly, the big band touring regimen has suffered due to economics and a shift in pop-culture. Otherwise, Bley triumphantly merges elements of the past with a nouveau demeanor on these rather uplifting and acutely arranged pieces.
Bley generally manages to insert a bit of wit and whimsy into her works, although nothing too radical in that regard. But on the opener "Greasy Gravy," she guides the musicians through a quirky, barrelhouse type blues vamp, enamored by warm and accenting horns choruses via a laidback motif. However, a good portion of the program is centered upon bold and brassy charts while the leader affords the featured soloists room to breathe.
On the extended and multipart piece "Appearing Nightly At The Black Orchid," the band delivers liberal amounts of pop and zing into the overall picture to complement a feisty string of events. Here, tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard lets it fly beneath the warm shroud of sweeping horns choruses. Then trombonist Gary Valente’s raspy, wah-wah solo is executed atop a trad-jazz motif as the band fuses a hodgepodge of high-impact phrasings into the grand schema, consummated by trumpeter Lew Soloff’s high-cee’s during the finale.
The album closes with the ballsy mid-tempo swing vamp composition "I Hadn’t Anyone Till You," where the audience in attendance seemingly rises and vigorously applauses within a few false endings. A good time was had by all as they say, as Bley comingles highly entertaining jazz amid all the underlying complexities and intricately engineered frameworks. You can’t ask for much more than that....