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Carla Bley's (and Pals') Crepuscule With Raymond Chandler

Don't let the collective billing fool you. Recorded in concert last fall in various European cities, The Lost Chords is Carla Bley's vehicle. She wrote all the tunes, probably while listening to Thelonious Monk and skimming Raymond Chandler. My favorites—the last in a series of three variations on "Three Blind Mice" and section two of the three-part title track, if you're following along at home—begin with Bley's piano and Andy Sheppard's tenor voicing the melodies in Monk-like unison, and during his solos Sheppard occasionally chuckles like Charlie Rouse. He switches to soprano and dons a gumshoe's slouch hat and trench coat for the noirish opening section of the title piece. Except for a sneaky allusion here and there, Bley doesn't emulate Monk as a pianist; her solos, front and center in the quartet setting, display many of the same virtues as John Lewis's—melodic concision, most of all. With Sheppard circular-breathing, Billy Drummond hammering the beat, Steve Swallow sustaining an ostinato, and Bley indulging her predilection for what she once called "pattern music" (that's minimalism to you and me), a few tracks reach a dead standstill. On balance, though, this is delicious stuff, if not exactly a significant addition to Bley's discography. The only thing I don't get is why her parody of "Stormy Weather" is titled "Leonard Feather."


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