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Arts & Entertainment

Peter Stenshoel's (final) album of the week: Escalator Over the Hill by Carla Bley and Paul Haines

Dasha Moroz

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On this, my final Off-Ramp Album of the Week Blog, I want to take space to thank my colleague John Rabe, who took my penchant for decorating my cubicle with old records to undreamt-of heights. His trust that I might have a thing or two to say became a weekly feature spanning 118 albums. I also want to thank my editors, especially Kevin Ferguson and James Kim, who no doubt juggled deadlines with this byline many a time. Thanks for your patience and guidance.
I’m also thankful for the 5,945 views on flickr, and to all those who “liked” and “shared” on Facebook. Those who made a point of seeking this out on the KPCC page, those who left comments, mange takk! In the words of David Ossman, who used the phrase to describe his Firesign Theatre, Album of the Week Blog was “held precious by a precious few.” You know who you are. You are loved.
Before we get to our final LP, I have to obsess slightly over the ones that got away. I had certainly meant to feature New Order, but which album? When their bassist Peter Hook visited for a chat with Take Two’s Alex Cohen, my regret at this omission was personified. No John Coltrane, no Eric Dolphy! For shame! David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name nearly made it various weeks, as did the seminal Spiritual Unity by Albert Ayler. And then there were discs important by their very neglect: Reverend Overstreet, His Electric Guitar, His Four Sons, and the Church of God in Christ is a little-known gospel gem on Arhoolie Records. Down by Lee Highway by Grayson and Whitter, Farida Khanum, Ram Narayan, Ebenezer Obey and His Inter-Reformers Band…so many deserved albums, so little time.
I’ve one more digression: live concerts I’ve seen that left a mark. The very first incarnation of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Wendy Waldman in her heyday, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Yvonne Loriod playing Messiaen’s The Awakening of the Birds in the presence of the composer, Bernd Alois Zimmerman’s Die Soldaten at Alice Tully Hall in New York City, Turkish musicians in Los Angeles, Son House, B.B. King, Muddy Waters! Sun Ra every time I saw him. Of course, every live music event leaves its essence and memories.
Carla Bley did a fine job of herding cats when bringing together a disparate group of iconoclasts for Escalator Over the Hill for the Jazz Composers Orchestra Association. It’s an experimental work – more like theater of the mind than jazz. This is probably the only time Linda Ronstadt, Viva, Don Preston, Sheila Jordan, Don Cherry, and Jack Bruce (and many others) share the same album. Carla Bley owes a debt to Kurt Weil, but she is very much her own composer, and the late Paul Haines’ words have a way of sticking around in your head for decades. I can thank him for this gem which helped me quit cigarettes: “You’ve got to give up/What you don’t really want/To get what you do.” -  True, that. Listen to the sample for how vocals lead in and out of a blistering electric guitar solo by John McLaughlin on Rawalpindi Blues.
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Oops! Time for my escalator to go over the hill.