Carla Bley & Paul Haines: Rawalpindi Blues
Carla Bley (organ)
Escalator Over The Hill – A Chronotransduction by Carla Bley and Paul Haines (JCOA 839 310-2)
Composed by Carla Bley (music) & Paul Haines (lyrics).
Recorded: New York, March 1971
Rating: 85/100 (learn more)
Escalator Over the Hill, an epic jazz-rock opera, was probably pretentious in 1971, and is definitely pretentious now. That being said, it was an important attempt at a full-length social statement. It doesn't really matter that the point was lost somewhere in Paul Haines's interesting but vague lyrics. Or that it is virtually impossible, despite a full LP-sized script, to keep track of the 100 different musicians and actors on hand. It was the naïve effort that counted. For its day, this undertaking was brave and grand of scale. Bley and Haines bit off more than they could chew, but there are gems among the cud.
While EOTH rarely had less than a boatload of musicians playing at once, "Rawalpindi Blues" begins with a simple quartet featuring Bley on organ, Cream's Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, guitarist John McLaughlin and drummer Paul Motion. Bruce raises his famous voice for the Beatles-Maharishi Mahesh Yogi trancelike introduction. McLaughlin then gives an early display of grunge jazz. His notes are splinters. Bley is pure accompanist as Motian and Bruce keep a heavy rhythm. Eventually other musicians join, and the rough blues-rock becomes a form of world music replete with Indian syllabic singing. Remember, this was before anyone recognized "world music."
A behemoth of inconsistency and brilliance, EOTH was perhaps the first album to combine so many disparate forms. Though only occasionally attaining transcendence, it was an important historical marker and deserves to be listened to at least once.
Reviewer's Note: I own the video of the making of this recording. At some point early on, Bley starts smoking a pipe. I don't mean a pot pipe. I mean the type your dad may have smoked in 1958. That was too much for me. I never watched the rest of the video. (The more I think about it, it may have been a corncob pipe. But I am afraid to go back and look.)
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky