Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Carla Bley

  • Dinner Music [Watt, 1977] B+
  • European Tour 1977 [Watt, 1978] A-
  • Musique Mecanique [Watt, 1979] B

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Dinner Music [Watt, 1977]
I'm quite taken with this, which reminds me in an abstract way of Another Green World. Where dance jazz was unselfconsciously functional, this is art jazz that was designed to be functional--just as Eno designed his electronic pop-rock to fade into the background the way so much electronic pop-rock does anyway. The result is yet another of those Jazz Composer's Orchestra get-togethers between avant-gardists (JCOA stalwarts Michael Mantler and Roswell Rudd) and pop luminaries (the Stuff studio funk axis), and this time the music meshes. Unfortunately, however, I find that only two of the right cuts--"Ida Lupino" and "Ad Infinitum"--combine melody and rigor as magically as the double-edged concept promises. B+

European Tour 1977 [Watt, 1978]
Although the basic concept--Kurt Weill Meets Ornette Coleman for Indiscreet Ellingtonian Frolic--is a little abstruse, this actually does reward the sort of close listening that earns so many theoretical payoffs. Perhaps amusement is the reward a little too often, however. I like a joke as well as the next fellow, but a few emotional expositions do help assuage one's conscience. A-

Musique Mecanique [Watt, 1979]
I'm still attracted to Bley's humor, best displayed here in the title piece, a wry take on the charms and imperfections of the mechanical mode. But this is basically desultory, hinting at the feckless formalism an obsession with textures so often conceals. Beyond the jokes, and the deliberately aborted moments of lyricism, she really doesn't have much to say. Weill sure did. And so did Satie. B