How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Founded in 2003, Carla Bley's quartet The Lost Chords interprets her music with emotional depth and superior musicianship. By adding guest trumpeter Paolo Fresu for this session, she has stumbled on a formula that emphasizes camaraderie and spirit-sharing. The five artists fuse well together through blues, ballads, lyrical arias and the occasional ruckus. Far from predictable, Bley's music engulfs the band as if in a cozy den with fireplace and library, where the walls are covered with tapestries that tell stories. Quickly, they jump from one image to the next, seamlessly, without pause. Steve Swallow's bass guitar, Andy Sheppard's tenor saxophone, Bley's piano and Billy Drummond's drum kit blend with Fresu's trumpet and flugelhorn in a gathering that centers on standard classical harmony and a very un-standard rhythmic concept.
"The Banana Quintet," which melds the first six tracks into one suite, relies on five-beat meters for much of its spontaneity. Three more tracks carry on the same sense of homespun passion with themes that range from events in daily life to those that occur in supernatural dreams. Bley's piano opens several numbers with a predetermined sense of direction and mood. She created each tone poem with The Lost Chords in mind; yet, the session places no restraints on its participants. They accept their musical freedom graciously while turning over one surprise after another. The lyricism that Sheppard and Fresu espouse comes coated with sentiment. At times dark and melodramatic, the ensemble draws a parallel to the sound that Charlie Haden achieves through his Liberation Music Orchestra. It's no coincidence that Bley is a compositional force with that band as well. Both bands, while unique, carry considerable lyrical motion in their interpretations. This quintet could sit in comfortably at any jazz club in the world and make you feel at home. What's more, they deliver fresh musical ideas with a feeling that comes from a lifetime in jazz.
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: Carla Bley: piano; Steve Swallow: bass; Billy Drummond: drums; Paolo Fresu: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andy Sheppard: tenor saxophone.