Carla Bley writes big, inclusive compositions, now playful (with large dollops of irony and parody), now confrontational. Filled with lyrical surprises and translucently scored, they have a Technicolor, Sensurround aspect, a special emphasis on the most vivid extremes of the instruments at her disposal. Bley writes music of serious whimsy–and after 30 years of doing so, she has the stature to cast leading-man soloists in her musical screenplays. (The band she brings to Chicago stars trumpeters Lew Soloff and the excellent young Ryan Kisor, top-drawer trombone soloists Gary Valente and Luis Bonilla, the puissant young alto saxist Vincent Herring and the unsinkable soprano specialist Dave Liebman, and bass-guitar pioneer Steve Swallow.) Bley began composing in the late 1950s, and by the 60s had become a youthful doyenne to New York’s musical avant-garde, collaborating on mixed-media works with poet Paul Haines and bassist Charlie Haden (on the album Liberation Music Orchestra, for which she wrote all the arrangements). These days she leads her own small groups and this big band, which remains the best conduit for her creative stream. In this format, Bley’s catchy tunes and populist rhythms–from rock to tango–act as camouflage for the creative anarchy her music champions. The ensemble writing barely contains the freewheeling and sometimes simultaneous solos, which, with their joyful theatricality, threaten to burst not only the frame but also the genre. In fact, Bley’s body of music marks her as one of the first jazz deconstructionists, breaking down and reconceptualizing the traditional and relatively regimented notion of big-band jazz. (Forgive the jargon, but who knows? It might become the libretto for one of her future projects.) Sunday, 7:50 PM, Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson; 774-3315.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Carla Bley by Roger Ressmeyer.