Picks and Pans Review: Fictitious Sports
These albums could substantiate for a wide audience what jazz aficionados have been saying for two decades: Bley (rhymes with hay) is a composer to be reckoned with. Her accomplishments in these releases are considerable and distinct. Social Studies, a suite for Bley's nine-piece band, is lively, subtle, Spanish-tinged and bluesy. It combines, in the tradition of Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington, the seemingly antithetical virtues of freewheeling spontaneity and carefully plotted orchestral effects. On Fictitious Sports, recorded by a group led by Pink Floyd drummer Mason, all the words and music are by Bley. It is that rarity, a genuine commingling of the essences of jazz and rock. Instead of the churning funk of most "fusion" music, Bley juxtaposes disparate melodic and rhythmic ideas as well as such instruments as Howard Johnson's tuba and Chris Spedding's rock guitar. The same wit and clarity inform her lyrics, sung by Karen Kraft and an endearingly grainy tenor, Robert Wyatt. Long revered in Europe but little known here, the Oakland-born Bley, 43, writes pointedly in Boo to You Too, "Keep your chin up/Play what you feel/Music is always good if it's real/Even if they're cruel to you/You got to do what you do." She does, brilliantly.