Iro Haarla: Around Again – The Music Of Carla Bley

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Still perhaps best known as the harpist in her late spouse Edward Vesala’s Sound & Fury, Haarla developed a fascination with the music of Clara Bley while studying with pianist Heikki Sarmanto in Helsinki in the early 70s. Her great idol however remains Paul Bley, and it seems entirely fitting that this trio includes drummer Barry Altschul, a fixture in the late pianist’s fearless trios of the 60s, when many of these compositions were first recorded. Completing the line-up and instigating the project is Haarla’s first-call bassist Uffe Krokfors, a natural choice given the duo’s longstanding musical kinship.

As Altschul observes in his liner notes, Carla Bley was in many respects a traditionalist, applying standard harmonies and rhythms to compressed AABA or ABA structures. Yet when her compositions collided with her then husband’s stream of consciousness improvisation the magic really started to happen, and in many respects this set is as much about Paul as it is about Carla. 

Closer is one of five pieces taken from the seminal 1965 album of the same name, and for Haarla, already steeped in these traditions, it provides the perfect launchpad. Stretching the elliptical melody across the bar lines, the silences between each note become every bit as telling as the notation. Altschul interjects some uniquely quasi-melodic fills, and when Krokfors breaks through to solo the piece seems to momentarily collapse inwards.

Batterie represents the more angular side of Bley’s music, a visceral free-bop rollercoaster ride. Ida Lupino is perhaps Bley’s most well-loved piece, the trio honouring its sensual theme while adding their own imprint. Intermission Music (from A Genuine Tong Funeral) and Olhos De Gato take us towards the 1970s, while the folksy Utviklingssang makes a nod to Carla Bley’s Swedish ancestry. Perhaps the most beautiful music of the set is left until the very last, with a sumptuous reading of Carla’s 1961 Jesus Maria.

Haarla’s trio capture the romantic and often tempestuous essence of this epochal music to a tee, and this wonderfully rendered set serves a reminder, if ever one were needed, of just how important the briefly intertwined histories of the Bleys have been to the development of post-bop jazz.

Discography
Closer; Vashkar; Batterie; Ida Lupino; Around Again; Olhos De Gato; Intermission Music; King Korn; And Now, The Queen; Utviklingssang; Start; Jesus Maria (66.57)
Haarla (p); Ulf Krokfors (b); Barry Altschul (d). Helsinki, 11 November 2015.
TUM Records 054