Carla Bley: The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (WATT/34)

TLC Find Paolo Fresu

Carla Bley
The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu

Paolo Fresu trumpet
Andy Sheppard soprano and tenor saxophones
Carla Bley piano
Steve Swallow bass
Billy Drummond drums
Recorded May 19/20 and mixed and mastered August 19-21, 2007 at La Buissonne Studio, Pernes Les Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Carla Bley and Steve Swallow
Release date: October 26, 2007

The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu is one of those rare albums that not only tells but also demonstrates a story through deft self-presentation. The CD booklet is a journey in and of itself, laying down the music’s backstory to the point of admirable absurdity.

WATT-34-booklet- 7

When we first encounter the quartet of Carla Bley (piano), Andy Sheppard (soprano and tenor saxophones), Steve Swallow (bass), and Billy Drummond (drums), they’ve just been traveling south of the American border, when they hear tell of Paolo Fresu, who has been teaching and playing nearby. So begins a search for the elusive trumpeter that takes them to Central America:

Costa Rica

In the wake of all that drama, they learn that Fresu is in Rome, and off they go to the Italian capital by way of Paris, while on tour, to find him at last:


The interpretations that emerge from this seemingly fated alignment of signatures are as variegated as the mythology that binds them. “The Banana Quintet” is a six-part suite in quintessential Bley style. Fresu opens by extending an invitation to Sheppard’s tenor before Drummond’s brushes prime the canvas for every stroke that follows. The many allusions contained therein, spanning the gamut from the Beatles to the blues, parallel the tonal combinations that comprise them. And while the mood is gentle at heart, peaks of expression arise where needed. Fresu knows how to handle these with grace, and gives them a retrospective cogency to balance the wit at hand. Whether in the wryly peeled “Three Banana” or the melodically sophisticated “Four,” the quintet knows where it’s going at every interval. Some of the most rhapsodic textures come across in “Five Banana,” in which dovetailed bass and drums allow Sheppard’s tenor to leap with ecstasis and Fresu’s trumpet to unravel a spectrum’s worth of tonal colors. Indeed, Fresu shows himself to be close in spirit to Enrico Rava when it comes to lyrical approach. Sheppard gives over to beauties of his own, mind-melding with Fresu along lines of emotional timbre.

“Death Of Superman / Dream Sequence #1 – Flying,” written in memory of Christopher Reeve, spins pianistic thermals for Swallow’s outstretched wings. Delicate cymbals streak like clouds in flyby, a muted trumpet stringing chains of memory in their wake. The band bows out with a reading of Bley’s classic “Ad Infinitum” that, while relatively straightforward in arrangement, elicits particular grit from Sheppard as Drummond adds sunset gradations.

Pristinely recorded at La Buissonne Studio in Pernes Les Fontaines, with Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard engineering, the effect of all this is so spacious and fluid, it might just as easily have been released on ECM, and ranks among my Top 3 WATT albums of all time.

2 thoughts on “Carla Bley: The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (WATT/34)

  1. Really enjoying your recent reviews of Carla Bley’s work. I saw her trio with Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard in 2017 at the Melbourne International Jazz festival in a wonderful performance. As a volunteer driver for the festival, I drove Carla and Steve back to their hotel after a radio interview and remember thinking they were so in love snuggling in the back seat holding hands so affectionately. She was discussing what they should play for that night’s performance (that I later saw from the front row.) A memorable day for me!

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