Carla Bley

The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu | Watt/ECM
By JON GARELICK  |  December 31, 2007
3.5 3.5 Stars
For some, composer/bandleader Carla Bley long ago expended the avant-garde cred of her early years, but they’d be missing the fact that no one is writing — or playing — more beautiful jazz. Here she and her band, the Lost Chords (Bley on piano, saxophonist Andy Sheppard, bassist Steve Swallow, drummer Billy Drummond), have recruited the Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu for a suite called “The Banana Quintet,” plus a re-do of a couple of older Bley pieces. Bley’s limpid melodies are both funny (the titles should tell you that) and poignant, especially on ballads, but never sentimental. The ensemble textures are similarly transparent, Bley twining trumpet and sax, teasing them apart, the rhythms tending toward wave-like triple meters, Latin dance, 5/4. Pieces unfold like dramas — a lone trumpet, call-and-response with the band, a guitar-like bass solo on a different theme, a section of horn dialogue. With Sheppard and Fresu, their woolly tones nuzzling each other, that dialogue is like warm conversation at a sidewalk café. In this context, virtuoso skill is the soul of wit. This band breathes together — because that’s how the music was written.
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