Carla Bley: The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (2007)
It is almost scandalous to write about a recording and give away its secrets to the unsuspecting listener who, in an ideal world, would enjoy the point of the music much more by just putting it in the player and listening. To be sure, the notes speak directly to one of Bley's main attitudes: humor.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that the music is not serious. Rather, the humor is understated and mixed with an elegance and simplicity that hides its subtle construction. Bley is as careful in the arrangements as she is in the original composition of the melodies and their harmonization. Her quartet, The Lost Chords, have a particular mindset and sound, as can be heard on their eponymous first album (WATT, 2004).
Electric bassist Steve Swallow (Bley's life partner ) plays with an extremely delicate sound in the lower registers, but especially on his guitar-like solos in his instrument's upper register. Saxophonist Andy Sheppard, playing soprano and tenor, gets a very pure sound from both his horns, and drummer Billy Drummond is many times felt more than heard as he meshes with Swallow. Bley herself (she of the immediately recognizable hair) has stated that she wishes to play with as little emotion or pathos as possible. As such, her accompaniment and solos do not offer grand gestures, but rather more understatement.
Added to this unique sounding group is Fresu, who plays both trumpet and flugelhorn. The story (not the one in the notes) is that Sheppard really wanted to play with Fresu since they have "the same mystical considerations like playing the right note at the right time," beside having timbres that mesh perfectly. Any Italian trumpeter is going to be compared with Enrico Rava, and Fresu's softly glistening polish owes much to the older player.
The main piece is a suite, "The Banana Quintet," originally begun with Fresu's sound in mind. The simplicity of the scalar phrases and the oscillating harmony, when combined with the lush purity of Fresu and Sheppard, bring to mind nothing less than a majestically wide river viewed from a bridge as the sunset turns it into a golden ribbon.
The harmony moves in the bass line, but remains static in its chords producing a very satisfying feeling of gradually increasing density. The individual movements are clearly related but also move forward, reaching a climax on "Four," playing a bass theme which, in retrospect, has been there all along, and which should not be given away.
That such music can be as beautiful and emotionally satisfying as that of, say, Maria Schneider's Sky Blue (ArtistShare, 2007) without the resources is a wonder to behold.
Track Listing: The Banana Quintet: One Banana, Two Banana, Three Banana, Four, Five Banana, One Banana More; Liver of Life; Death of Superman/Dream Sequence #1--Flying; Ad Infinitum.
Personnel: Paolo Fresu: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andy Sheppard: soprano and tenor saxophones; Carla Bley: piano; Steve Swallow: bass; Billy Drummond: drums.
Record Label: Watt/ECM