Few albums have such a unique profile as Escalator Over The Hill by Carla Bley, and I'm still not sure how to describe the music more than 30 years after its original release : a free jazz fusion world music avant-garde opera seems pretty close, because you get it all, magnificent, bombastic, waltzing, humpah-ing, screeching, rocking, haunting, enervating, crazy, merry-go-rounding, absurd, stammering, howling, menacing, invigorating, crushing, cinematic, disjointing, chaotic, ....
Take an orchestra with the (then) absolute crème-de-la-crème of modern jazz : Don Cherry, Gato Barbieri, Roswell Rudd, Karl Berger, Sam Brown, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Enrico Rava, Perry Robinson, Michael Mantler, Leroy Jenkins, Ron McClure, Jimmy Lyons, Carla Bley herself of course, and add a dozen or so additional horns to form one of the many bands in the opera. Add some stars from the rock-scene, with amongst others Linda Ronstadt on vocals, Jack Bruce (The Cream) on bass and vocals, Don Preston (Mothers Of Invention) on Moog synthesizer, and of course John McLaughlin on guitar, and add some more vocal power Jeanne Lee and Sheila Jordan. And believe me, they're all pretty fantastic.
Next, take a theater author who can write down the most insane and absurd lines, to be sung in in various styles : opera, rock-n-roll, musical, or just to be shouted or spoken, alone or in a choir, or just simply sung, and singing in all earnestness sentences such as the following :
"It's in the lobby
of Cecil Clark's
that people raised
for one thing
vote for something
and to the point
riding the escalator
over the hill
vote for something
and to the point"
... and Carla Bley made something musically unique out of all of this.
So, in sum, treat this music without any preconceptions, let yourself be lead through a story the likes of which you have never heard, forget all musical notions and expectations, leave the safe haven of fixed patterns, .... and take this damn escalator!
(... and please don't ask me what it's all about!)
"Stop refusing to explain
Give up explaining"