Monday, December 12, 2005

IWNHA Part 1 - Escalator Over The Hill

Today I am starting a new feature I am calling IWNHA (for It Will Never Happen Again). I intend to use these columns to highlight those recordings which, given the culture of music today, could not be repeated. In other words, these are artifacts from a time when, at least on paper, it was possible that a recording could be financed and produced based solely on its artistic merit, rather than on any financial considerations.

I will not attempt here to give any grand thesis on this recording. Instead, it is my intention to introduce Escalator Over the Hill to those of you that might not have heard it before. First some facts about the recording.

Up until very recently, Escalator Over the Hill was the longest jazz album ever released (6 sides - clocking in at just under 160 minutes). The musicians were segregated into several individual bands which were used for various thematic purposes. For example, Jack Bruce, John McLaughlin, and Paul Motian were the heart of a fusion / rock combo used for the more aggressive segments of music, while Carla Bley led a big band featuring everyone from Charlie Hayden to Don Cherry. There were also solo and piano-accompanied vocal pieces featuring vocals from Linda Ronstadt, Jack Bruce, Paul Jones (from Manfred Mann), and even Don Preston (from the Mothers of Invention).

The unifying force behind all of this is the surrealistic libretto composed by Paul Haines, but to a greater extent the musical composition and arrangements by Carla Bley. There is a continuity, in the same sense that there is a continuity to the collected works of David Lynch. In fact, listening to the entire 2 1/2 hour recording in one go is a lot like experiencing a David Lynch film. You're not entirely sure what just happened, but you find yourself deeply affected nonetheless.

This album will change you. It will challenge everything you think you know about jazz - especially about the shape and nature of jazz, and the role of the jazz composer as defined by Ellington and Mingus. No way could something like this happen today.


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