The Lost Chords presumably exist to interpret the intimate aspects of Carla Bley's composing life, although for this album, their quartet form is expanded to include the Italian hornman of this album's title. With Paolo Fresu guesting, the grouping manages to sound much bigger than most quintets, as Bley infiltrates a big band vocabulary to create broad, painterly strokes. She goaded saxophonist Andy Sheppard into naming his favoured horn partner for this project, and he murmured something about Fresu, best-known for his work with the Italian Instabile Orchestra. Carla respects Sheppard's taste so much that she invited Fresu along without even having heard his playing. She swears that she writes for herself anyway, eschewing the Duke Ellington approach of composing for specific voices.
That said, the very upfront personalities of these front-liners do much to establish the character of this disc. Steve Swallow's bass is prominent too, but he's often found operating on the floor below them, despite his tendency to impersonate the higher notes of a guitar during his solos. Sticksman Bill Drummond completes the line-up, by the way.
The album is dominated by "The Banana Quintet", a six-part suite that's heavily concerned with the number five, for no good reason that Carla can give. She just flows where the inspiration takes her. Not only does it take up the most space, it's also the best work here. The three following pieces sound like gentle post-scripts by comparison.
"One Banana" is a thoughtful unpeeling, framing Fresu's flugelhorn.
He and Sheppard soon fall into a good cop/bad cop relationship, with the latter found in his most rough-hewn state, bluesily smearing with a rugged tonal edge.
Conversely, Fresu is a bouncing puffball, tender and light. "Two Banana" is a sleazy R&B; drag, not completely brutal, but seeming so in the context of Bley's compositional world. "Four" has a moodily morose quality, strung around Bley's spidering piano lines, but ultimately gets into some lusty slugging once Sheppard and Swallow have their way.