Personnel: Steve Cardenas (guitar); Loren Stillman (alto saxophone); Chris Cheek, Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone); Michael Rodriguez , Seneca Black (trumpet); Vincent Chancey (French horn); Curtis Fowlkes (trombone); Joseph Daley (tuba); Carla Bley (piano); Matt Wilson (drums).
Liner Note Authors: Ruth Cameron; Carla Bley.
Recording information: Avatar Studios, NY (01/14/2015/01/15/2015); Jazz Middelheim Festival, Antwerp, Belgium (01/14/2015/01/15/2015); Avatar Studios, NY (08/15/2015); Jazz Middelheim Festival, Antwerp, Belgium (08/15/2015).
Director: Bertrand Flamang.
Photographers: Cheung Ching Ming; Chuck Beach.
Arranger: Carla Bley.
In 2011, bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Carla Bley led an iteration of the Liberation Music Orchestra in a live concert at the Jazz Middelheim Festival in Antwerp, Belgium. It was partially intended as a warm-up for a forthcoming Liberation Music Orchestra album, a process that had been in the works since 2007. Sadly, Haden died from post-polio syndrome in 2014 before any new LMO tracks could be recorded. Thankfully, Haden, along with his wife, Ruth Cameron Haden, and Bley had discussed his desires for how to finish the album prior to his passing. Furthermore, the 2011 performance, which included two new arrangements earmarked for the planned album, had been recorded for Belgian public radio. All this meant that an album was possible, and in 2015 Bley convened the LMO in a studio to record the new material. Per Haden's request, longtime friend and esteemed bassist Steve Swallow was brought in to play his parts. Produced by Ruth Cameron Haden and Bley, along with Jean-Philippe Allard and Farida Bachir, Time/Life (Song for the Whales and Other Beings) is an atmospheric, elegiac album inspired by Haden's longstanding love and concern for the environment. Two of the songs, Bley's evocative arrangement of Miles Davis' "Blue in Green" and Haden's "Song for the Whales," are culled from the live concert and bookend the album. Opening with a haunting, bowed rubato intro in which Haden mimics whale sounds, "Song for the Whales" shifts gears into a searing, confrontational statement centered on saxophonist Tony Malaby's furious improvisation. Similarly, "Blue in Green," given a lush, enveloping treatment by Bley, is anchored by trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, whose yearning, vocal-like intensity brings to mind a compelling mix of Miles Davis and original LMO member Don Cherry. Also included are several older Bley compositions, with "Silent Spring" and "Utviklingssang" both dramatically rearranged with spine-tingling results by Bley. Similarly, Bley's ruminative title track has the measured pace and sobbing, breath-like flow of a person in mourning. What is also particularly compelling about Time/Life is how well the live recordings blend with the studio tracks. Much of this is due to Bley, whose arranging and spare, harmonic piano skills bridge the recordings and help elevate the album to one of the best in the LMO's catalog. Also due credit is Swallow, who is able to fill Haden's role while also adding his own distinctive voice to the band's legacy. Along with being bravura, highly engaging performances, these songs are also somewhat bittersweet in light of Haden's passing. Adding to this feeling is the fact that on the live tracks you hear Haden address the audience, his voice already weak from the effects of the post-polio syndrome. Ultimately, on Time/Life (Song for the Whales and Other Beings), it's that voice, literally and creatively, that remains with you. ~ Matt Collar