Carla Bley & Paul Haines - Escalator Over the Hill (1971), 4/10

The blending of jazz, electronic, rock, Indian music, and theater in Escalator Over the Hill sees varied results, mostly due to its unrealistic ambitions paired with imperfect methods. The lengthy recording period tracks considering the jagged sound and feel of the product as opposed to a complete or fully realized narrative. Carla Bley and the band shift between wonderfully brave and primal to shunted derivations of all genres involved. Stunning refrains are followed by jarring thematic shifts that detract from consistently built musical momentum. When these shifts are seamless, they are more satisfying, but as an album Escalator fails to provide a consistently pleasant narrative experience. The fearlessness from a conceptual perspective and the group’s commitment to the album’s ethos are admirable but this does not overshadow the underwhelming results. It does feel and present like a theatrical experience, but one that overstays its welcome too quickly, teasing its audience with moments of hope in the form of musical bravery before retreating into its original concepts, never proposing any truly gratifying new ideas. The vocals are a point of contention but from a critical point of view present as unremarkable. Ambition and an overuse of contemporary aesthetics combine to formulate the album’s poison, actualizing too much off-putting material to inspire attachment. Moments of unbridled passion, though they are many, such as “Smalltown Agonist” cannot carry the weight of a consistently dispiriting listen. Still, these moments of strength are not to be ignored, where Bley displays her strengths, such as “Over Her Head” where she at least attempts a stylistic vocal range that blends well with the band. While the concept of a jazz opera is infinitely exciting, Escalator Over the Hill does not exhibit the strengths of either genre, suppressing and impeding the hopeful development of both.