Carla Bley would appear to be the resident smart-aleck of the jazz world. In fact, she's a composer, arranger, and bandleader of considerable gifts and stature, and a new release by her is prima facie important. The Lost Chords finds Ms. Bley leading a highly interactive quartet in a live session that offers both depth and fun.
In any Carla Bley release, composition takes center stage. Here she takes a look, actually several looks, at "Three Blind Mice," reharmonizing it, playing it in 5/4 ("Wink Leak"), bopping it ("The Maze"). She also offers a ballad with a semi-calypso feel, in "Tropical Depression," and the funky "Hip Hop," which features a very fine Andy Sheppard tenor saxophone solo. But the strongest composition here is the three-part "Lost Chords." Part I begins with a deeply-felt statement by Sheppard, this time on soprano. Prodded by Bley's jabbing, urgent piano chords, he fashions a brilliantly intense, probing improvisation, building and sustainging tension as Swallow and Drummond provide further commentary. Part II, a swinging blues with altered changes, finds Sheppard back on tenor, while Part III revisits the aching thematic material of Part I.
The Lost Chords also focuses on Ms. Bley's pianistics. She doesn't pretend to be a virtuoso. Instead, she's concerned with the placement of each note, for maximum rhythmic emphasis, and to advance the music of the group as a whole. Her comping is also group-oriented, and she sounds like she has fully absorbed the ideas of Thelonious Monk and put them to effective and personal use.
Every member of this quartet plays with the interests of a group music as their primary concern. Sheppard, who is excellent throughout, improvises with regard to the composition and his fellow musicians, and he never resorts to mere noodling. Similarly, Swallow and Drummond are fully supportive, interactive, and swinging. Swallow is particularly effective on "The Maze," and Drummond is both powerful and discreet. The Lost Chords is a first-rate addition to Carla Bley's discography.
Track Listing: 3 Blind Mice: 3 Blind Mice, Wink Leak, Traps, Leonard Feather, The Maze, Blind Mice Redux; Hip Hop; Tropical Depression; Red; Lost Chords: I, II, III.
Personnel: Carla Bley, piano; Andy Sheppard, tenor and soprano saxophones; Steve Swallow, bass; Billy Drummond, drums.