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Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow 'Life Goes On' is richly poignant but never lugubrious / the absolute sound

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If there's an air of resignation to the way pianist/composer Bley has titled the movements of her opening suite-"Life Goes On," "On," "And On," "And Then One Day"-it is belied throughout this gently gripping album by Bley's indelible wit and unsinkable sanguinity. Both are evident in her pithy liner notes, her quotes of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "The Star Spangled Banner" in the "Beautiful Telephones" suite (inspired by remarks made by the current president during his first week in the White House), her play on call-and-response in the closing suite, "Copy Cat," and the unfrantic flow of her elegant melodies and soothing harmonies. The album title could reference Bley's career (more than five decades of recording), her age (she turns 82 in May), or the longevity of this uncannily simpatico trio (25 years and counting). Touching here on the blues and there on tango, now buoyant, now contemplative, the music is richly poignant but never lugubrious, bent but not sharply angular, spacious and light but never ungrounded. Swallow's unique electric bass sound and Sheppard's stately tenor and soprano sax tones, heard in ample solo space, seamlessly lock in with Bley's eccentric phrasing as the band sublimely plays on.

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