Steve Swallow

Eli Johnson / Courtesy of Big Ears Festival

At one point during the final stretch of this year's Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tenn., you could have pried yourself away from a distortion-jacked Sun of Goldfinger show to join a clutch of fans hurrying over to see The Art Ensemble of Chicago. In making that calculation (a typical one, for Big Ears), you'd have been weighing two wildly different experiences with one notable thing in common: Both groups have an affiliation with the sonically adventurous label ECM Records.

Carla Bley, the wily and iconoclastic American composer, has a natural aversion to hearing other people interpret her music. But she didn't seem to have that problem with Riverside, a band jointly led by trumpeter Dave Douglas and multi-reedist Chet Doxas. In fact, she'll be joining Riverside, on piano, for a pair of upcoming Canadian concerts — in Quebec City on July 5 and at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 6.

Her receptivity to Riverside's album The New National Anthem, which celebrates her work, may have something to do with the cajoling of her life partner, Steve Swallow, who plays electric bass in the band. But it could also be a reflection of the sincerity and sense of play brought to the table by Douglas and Doxas, who joined me in conversation for this episode of The Checkout.


Courtesy Greenleaf Music

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.