A few years ago, trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Chet Doxas released the self-titled debut album by a band they called Riverside. Along with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Jim Doxas (Chet’s brother), they made the album a smart, springy tribute to the midcentury-modern multireedist and composer Jimmy Giuffre.
Swallow played with Giuffre in the early 1960s, so the project had a personal dimension. But Riverside’s second album, The New National Anthem, lands even closer to home — honoring Carla Bley, the resolutely original composer and pianist who has been Swallow’s life partner for more than 40 years.
“The New National Anthem” is a fanfare that Bley wrote some 50 years ago, for A Genuine Tong Funeral, an album by vibraphonist Gary Burton. It forms a brief overture for Riverside’s album, setting the stage for a locomotive Douglas original called “Old Country.” Here is an exclusive video of Riverside performing that tune in the studio.
Bley, who turned 81 last month, maintains a characteristically wry outlook about her impact on the scene. “I would say the only influence I ever expected to have on any other person is a listener, never a player,” she told me last year, when I visited her and Swallow at home in upstate New York, for a profile in the New York Times.
But Bley’s sly formalism and subversive harmonic sense are evident throughout this album, even though it only includes three of her tunes. (Along with the title track, they are “Enormous Tots,” from her 1974 big band album Tropic Appetites, and a more recent invention, “King Korn.”)
Douglas is responsible for much of the rest, and he seeks inspiration in the specific logic and language of Bley’s music. (His response to “King Korn” is a wriggling thing called “King Conlon,” as in Nancarrow.) There’s also a gracefully bleary tune by Chet Doxas, “View From a Bird,” and a soothing new waltz by Swallow, “Never Mind.”
Greenleaf Music will release The New National Anthem on June 16.
Riverside performs a pair of album-release shows at The Stone at the New School on June 30 and July 1. The band also appears with Bley as a featured guest in Quebec City on July 5 and at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 6.