Carla's Christmas Carols

Carla's Christmas Carols

On Carla’s Christmas Carols, the pianist and composer Carla Bley strikes a nice balance between tradition and innovation. The album features instrumental versions of seasonal tunes that should please both fans of Bley’s considerable arranging skills and lovers of these well-worn songs. She is joined by her frequent collaborator Steve Swallow on electric bass, and the Partyka Brass Quintet, a group led by bass trombone and tuba player Ed Partyka. The sounds of celeste, chimes, and glockenspiel appear here and there, providing the tinkly tones we associate with the winter holiday. Swallow brings his signature lead-style bass playing to a mysterious, Spanish-flavored version of “Away In a Manger.” A two-part version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” evokes the lush orchestrations of Gil Evans. Bley sneaks a couple of originals into the album’s mix, too. “Hell’s Bells” has ringing chimes, swinging solos, walking bass, and a quote from “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” The track segues into “Jesus Maria,” a quiet piece with solo turns by Bley and Swallow. The album closes with live recordings of “O Holy Night” and “Joy to the World.”

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