Carla Bley, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 87, should be a role model for anyone who aspires to create a holistic musical universe. Not only are her compositions wonderful, but they have a unique and identifiable personality, one that is magnified when performed by her own groups, but which invites anyone playing them to inhabit the world they evoke, which is one of the reasons why there are so many fascinating versions of them by other artists. Her playing on piano and organ was also distinctive (and, to use a loaded term, underrated) and the body of work accumulated on the record label she cofounded in the 1970s is yet another factor in this universe she created. To top it off, there are few musicians whose command of words match hers – her writings (possibly the most endearing bio I’ve ever read on an artist website) and her thoughts in interviews have never failed to be clever and illuminating at the same time.

For expediency’s sake (and so I can get TWO lists for the price of one) I’m foregoing explanations and will simply lay out some personal faves and invite those interested to check them out (all available on the typical streaming sites etc.).

By others/under others’ names:

1 ) “Jesus Maria” by Jimmy Giuffre (feat. Paul Bley and Steve Swallow) from Fusion (1961)

2 ) “King Korn” by Paul Bley (feat. John Gilmore) from Turning Point (1964)

3 ) “Sing Me Softly of the Blues” by Art Farmer Quartet from Sing Me Softly of the Blues (1965)

4 ) “The New National Anthem / The Survivors” by Gary Burton from A Genuine Tong Funeral (1967)

5 ) “Ad Infinitum” by Steve Kuhn Trio from Watch What Happens (1968)

6 ) “Vashkar” by Tony Williams Lifetime (feat. Larry Young & John McLaughlin) from Emergency (1969)

7 ) “Too Late” by Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra from Ballad of the Fallen (1983)

8 ) “Floater” by Vic Juris from Free Admission (2011)

9 ) “Olhos de Gato” by Steve Cardenas/Ben Allison/Ted Nash from Healing Power: The Music Of Carla Bley (2021)

10 ) “Two Hearts (Lawns)” by Terri Lyne Carrington (feat. Samara Joy) from New Standards, Vol. 1 (2022)

On her own records:

1 ) “A New Hymn” (feat. Roswell Rudd & the members of Stuff) from Dinner Music (1976)

2 ) “Reactionary Tango” from Social Studies (1980)

3 ) “Joyful Noise” from Heavy Heart (1983)

4 ) “Girl Who Cried Champagne” from Sextet (1987)

5 ) “United States” from The Very Big Carla Bley Band (1990)

6 ) “Birds of Paradise” from Big Band Theory (1993)

7 ) “Music Mecanique” (parts I-III) from Are We There Yet? (w. Steve Swallow) (1998)

8 ) “Los Cocineros” from Looking for America (2002)

9 ) “Five Banana” from The Lost Chords Find Paulo Fresu (2007)

10 ) “Life Goes On: And Then One Day” from Life Goes On (2019)


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