A few months ago, we bemoaned the loss of a quality modern jazz composer in Paul Nash and noted how it seems we are well past the heyday of melodists of large-form jazz. Oh my, how did I ever forget about the still-thriving Carla Bley?
Carla has been one of the most the most unique and consistent stylists of jazz compositions ever since her first husband Paul Bley started recording her songs in the late fifties, "Ida Lupino" being one of the more notable ones. But she was destined for much more than providing material for Paul's piano trio settings and soon found her works covered by other notables like George Russell, Jimmy Guiffre, Art Farmer and Gary Burton.
Her stature grew further in the early seventies as she took on more ambitious projects like the stunning chaos of 1971's Escalator Over The Hill and Charlie Haden's opus of jazz protest music, The Liberation Music Orchestra. Since then, she has been involved in a dizzying array of projects ranging from piano/bass duets with master electric bassist and long-time companion Steve Swallow to writing for and leading full-blown orchestras. All the while, she's covered and blended styles ranging from experimental big-band to rock. One of the more interesting side roads she took was a six-month stint in former Cream member Jack Bruce's band alongside ex-Stones guitarist Mick Taylor.
Lately, Bley has focused more on traditional small combos. A few years ago she formed a nice little quartet dubbed The Lost Chords, which included her on piano, Swallow on electric bass, the Brit Andy Sheppard on saxes and Billy Drummond on drums. That association brought forth an album by the same name back in '04. But at the subtle encouragement of Sheppard, Paolo Fresu was added to the band and The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu is the result.
Fresu is quite possibly the heir apparent to Enrico Rava as Italy's premier trumpet player. He is blessed with a warm, lyrical tone that approximates Miles Davis' Gil Evans days without replicating it. Combined with the similarly-minded Sheppard, Bley had the right horn section for her small-ensemble compositions.
Bley's composing style typically utilizes wit, quirkiness and drama all wrapped up into one. Those are the kind of attributes that appear in Find Paolo Fresu. Carla's primary method of carrying out this task this time is through use of ostinatos that reveal and transform progressively at each repetition. The compositions still have an orchestral feel to it and the band undertakes them ever so mindful of the melody and enhances it as much as possible while remaining creative within their own instruments. The result is a band that is not your conventional jazz quintet; it's almost like a pocket orchestra with the nimbleness of a bop combo.