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Carla Bley: The Lost Chords

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Pianist Carla Bley's supple Lost Chords quartet is a bit like a group of longtime dance partners—the individuals move in sure step together, but leave each other ample freedom to move. The musical result is an airy, spacious feel that doesn't sacrifice groove or drive.

Far from being strangers, the four notes in this chord are quite familiar with each other. Joining Bley on piano is her longtime partner Steve Swallow (electric bass), Andy Sheppard (soprano and tenor sax), and Billy Drummond (drums). The quartet's eponymous album, a collection of Bley compositions, is a laid back and appealing live set culled from its European tour in the fall of 2003. It's bookended by two extended suites, "3 Blind Mice and "The Lost Chords, with a few individual pieces in between.

"3 Blind Mice features the descending three-note theme of the children's song dressed up in different harmonic and rhythmic clothing. A highlight comes in the "Wink Leak section, where Sheppard (on soprano sax) displays some superhuman circular breathing, and the (seemingly) breathless passage of arpeggios over insistent repetition in the rhythm section creates quite a hypnotic effect. The composition also shows a Monkish influence, with question-mark melodic phrases sequenced up and played by the piano and tenor sax in unison.

"Tropical Depression is another standout. The piece has colorful and varied harmonic movement, and Bley's playing is far from flashy, but definitely in the pocket. The wide-jumping bass line, together with the piano chords, creates a very open feel, not unlike another sea-themed composition, "Maiden Voyage.

Closing out the album, the title suite is not so much lost as searching—the piano is grounded in wandering, ruminative chords while the soprano sax circles ethereally above. Winding down, the music doesn't find its home, but it stops to rest for a bit on the way.

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: soprano and tenor saxophones; Steve Swallow: bass; Billy Drummond: drums.

Title: The Lost Chords | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Watt/ECM


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