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Pianist/composer Carla Bley, 77 years old now, knows outrage and energy; her early masterwork Escalator Over the Hill ends with repetition infinite — or at least, until the needle punches through the lock groove at the end of side six on the vinyl. Escalator had a cast of a few dozen — only the best, because Bley was good enough to know only the best.

Forty-odd years after that, she’s gone along the way that many aging folks go along. Trios contains spare conversations — and they are conversations, all three players having learned to talk through their chops — about regret, triumph, portent, and doing what you can with what you’ve got left.

Steve Swallow’s electric bass sounds unlike a bass at first. He can “go there” to an expected sound, but he’s mastered a high, warm tone something like the late guitarist Jim Hall. Bley can drop out her left hand to let Swallow handle the down-low, but sometimes stabs in to enrich it.

At first I found saxophonist Andy Sheppard the odd voice that pinches. His tone seemed insistent, insecure, determined to be heard regardless of content, unlike the other two who don’t much care whether anyone else listens in. Then I twigged to how Sheppard lets his wind flag, breathing softly through his tenor but not fingering anything. I heard his hidden hesitancy. He’s new to this conversation, but he’s trying to fit in. All three take note of ordinary, mortal time. The window darkens. The darkness richens.

  • Artists: Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, and Steve Swallow
  • Album: Trios
  • Label: ECM
  • Songs: (1) Utviklingssang (2) Vashkar (3) Les Trois Lagons (D'Après Henri Matisse): Plate XVII/Plate XVIII/Plate XIX (4) Wildlife: Horns/Paws Without Claws/Sex with Birds (5) The Girl Who Cried Champagne
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