Music

Carla Bley / Steve Swallow / Andy Sheppard / Billy Drummond: The Lost Chords

Robert R. Calder

Carla Bley / Steve Swallow / Andy Sheppard / Billy Drummond

The Lost Chords

Label: ECM
US Release Date: 2004-07-13
UK Release Date: 2004-07-05
Amazon
iTunes

This is a very nice set by Carla Bley's working quartet, with the mellow-toned and eloquent English tenor (and sometimes soprano) saxophonist Andy Sheppard, the invariably sparky Billy Drummond on drums, and Steve Swallow's bass guitar providing the quality and variety of underspringing that makes so much of Carla Bley's music so refreshing.

Ms. Bley has long been spoken of as an exponent of composer's piano, but it's fairer to say that in this tremendously together foursome she wastes no notes -- and every note she plays means a lot. She has a wide palette, and ranges from playful to powerful, and the band has its own direction rather than being obviously under any player's leadership. The presentation suggests that The Lost Chords is in fact the band's name -- maybe as a set of individual human beings rather than as a playing group. The insert has some comic stuff from Ms. Bley's diary, and some intentionally amusing album (photograph album) snapshots.

The opener is a quite on-the-theme "Three Blind Mice", with something of Monk in the solo piano opening, followed by the tenorist applying his soft tone to produce some fluffy, delicate phrases the pianist emulates in not such Monkish style. The second set of variations finds Sheppard on soprano over a sort of drone from Swallow, really digging in. There's a little play on Philip Glass repetitivism (subtitled "Leak Wink"). "Traps" continues the joke by being a drum feature over Swallow's bass -- traps being an archaic term for jazz drums -- and a third sub-section mysteriously titled "Leonard Feather" might derive from the English Sheppard's acquaintance with London rhyming slang. The ancient critic -- who once inspired (if that is the word?) the great cornetist Muggsy Spanier's uncomplimentary "Feather Brain Blues" -- was an Englishman too. To help you spot the tune, here are some new words Ms. Bley might like to consider (my terms are invariably generous): "Don't know why fun's a thing I shouldn't try, / Leonard Feather… keep playing all the time…"

The two parts of the third movement are titled "The Maze" and "Blind Mice Redux", and the Thelonious Monk pastiche is plain and colourful. This isn't to say the music's shallow.

"Hip Hop" is something of a send-up of boogaloo, Swallow digging in but sounding remarkably light for a performer of such music. The drumming is crisp and the piano delicate in playing with sub-gospel cliché. This sounds like a sketch for a big band approach to the possibilities of the tune that has just been improvised on -- though the lightweight "Hip Hop" isn't formally part of that delightful exercise in quirkiness. There are some playful echoes of latter day Miles Davis rock bands, but while this performance might have lulled an audience, it does seem to have gone on a bit after a couple of listenings.

"Tropical Depression" starts somewhat sultry, with Sheppard light and feathery over an accompaniment dominated by Swallow, in which Bley contributes a lot of colour before her own solo. With the more brisk "Red", the music has become serious, with less manifest playfulness.

The title suite has Sheppard playing a melancholy line on soprano, with the piano and bass building behind him in a climax, from which he descends to admit Swallow's entry doing his guitar sort of thing. The conclusion, working through another orchestral climax of piano, soprano and drums, moves by way of a melancholy segue into a pacy, nonetheless melancholy second section. Sheppard's articulate solo is followed by Swallow deploying his instrument's bass capacities. The grand chorded piano climax opens the third and final section with Drummond putting in a lot of work. Sheppard plays soprano in what is largely a concerted ensemble conclusion. It's a little surprising, to say the least. There are quite a few worthwhile surprises here.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image