Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Find Fresu

The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu
Carla Bley

Carla Bley has a well-deserved reputation as a composer’s composer. Even when writing for her own sessions, she is really writing for her sideman, as on her newest release The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu. Written specifically for a two horn font-line of reedman Andy Sheppard and Italian trumpeter Fresu, Bley has crafted a distinctive statement for small combo.

Bley’s writing is also notable for a sense of humor, which can be heard in the etymology of the so-called “Banana Quintet,” the centerpiece suite of the CD, originally consisting of five movements, but growing into six. The title comes from some word association, starting with five, to hand, then to bananas (which grow in hands).

Regardless, “The Banana Quintet” is gorgeous music, starting with the spare elegance of “One Banana.” Featuring lovely solos from Fresu and bassist Steve Swallow, it is the perfect music to listen to on the ipod when coming home on an early winter night. Fresu might not be particularly well known in America, but he is one of the top trumpeters in Europe, distinguishing himself in the lyrical Italian trumpet tradition beginning with Chet Baker’s Italian sojourn and most celebrated in the figure of Enrico Rava.

“Two Banana” is bluesier, but still reflective, while showcasing the more plaintive sound of shepherd’s tenor. It is also a nice example of the compatibility of Fresu and Sheppard, playing off and around each other. “Three Banana” has a slightly Monkish lope to its rhythm, giving some space to its composer, propelled along by Billy Drummonds cymbal work.

“Four” is the darkest of the suite, a moody passage, which grows in intensity through Drummonds insistent drumming. “Five Banana” is lighter in tone, with a lilting rhythm, again well suiting Fresu’s polished trumpet tone, followed by a crisp, eloquent solo from Sheppard on tenor. “One Banana More” is the bonus banana, a short but elegant coda to Bley’s hand.

Of the other three individual Bley compositions, “Death of Superman/Dream Sequence #1—Flying” is another title which requires some explanation. According to Bley, it was originally composed as a tribute to the life of Christopher Reeve for a commission that fell through. Fortunately, Bley took a waste-not-want-not attitude, adapting it here for the Lost Chords and Fresu. It is a delicate piece, with Swallow introducing the melody, giving way to some Miles-like mute work from Fresu, followed by Sheppard’s husky tenor taking a delicate solo.

Given their short shelf life, bananas seem like an inappropriate title for richly textured music that grows with repeated listening. Maybe there is an analogy to be made about peeling layers, but it is probably best to just let the wordplay go. In any event, Find is a very rewarding session (even the liner notes are entertaining) that may bring both Fresu and even Bley wider audiences in America.