It’s a mystery how Carla Bley’s new CD, The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (ECM), achieves its greatness. Even the word seems too freighted for music so minimal. A scale segues into a simple melody, followed by a straight harmony, some swishes on snare and hi-hat, a bass line that follows an equally simple counterpoint. Yet some quirky gravity holds these strands in magical equipoise, like a Calder mobile. The album’s title is less Dada than it may seem, though the effect is no doubt intended. The Lost Chords is Bley’s longstanding quartet—herself on piano, Andy Sheppard on sax, Steve Swallow on bass, and Billy Drummond on drums—and they’re joined here by the Italian trumpeter, Paolo Fresu. I’m unfamiliar with Fresu’s previous work, but he's very appealing; he plays with a clarion tone, with a slight huff of breathiness. Bley, a furtive presence on the jazz scene for the past four decades, came to prominence with her large-ensemble works, most notably the Kurt Weillian all-star double album of 1968, Escalator Over the Hill , and, not long after, her arrangements for Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. Her small-ensemble albums have had their charm, but this latest is by far the most ambitious and successful. The tunes, all composed by Bley, are melancholic ballads or gentle romps, with a Latin tinge and a great deal of whimsy. The engineers are Gerard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard, and the sound they’ve laid down is airy and 3D vivid.
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