The Lost Chords

Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow, Billy Drummond

CD18,90 out of print
Featured Artists Recorded

October 2003, On tour in Europe

Original Release Date


  • 3 Blind Mice
  • 13 Blind Mice
    (Carla Bley)
  • 2Wink Leak / Traps / Leonard Feather
    (Carla Bley, Carla Bley, Carla Bley)
  • 3The Maze / Blind Mice Redux
    (Carla Bley, Carla Bley)
  • 4Hip Hop
    (Carla Bley)
  • 5Tropical Depression
    (Carla Bley)
  • 6Red
    (Carla Bley)
  • Lost Chords
    (Carla Bley)
  • 7I09:07
  • 8II04:23
  • 9III03:37
Putting aside her more customary big-band music, last year the pianist Carla Bley formed and toured with a quartet called the Lost Chords. An album, The Lost Chords, came from the European performances, and it has a slow-acting quality. Here and there it’s pleasantly eccentric on the surface, but the music contains deeper pleasures that take a little while to settle in. …
“Lost Chords,” a suite, represents its magnum opus. Built on tolling chords, the music transforms into a slow minor ballad, Mr. Sheppard gracefully picking around the chords and abstracting his lines into soft, wailing long tones. Mr. Swallow plays a guitarlike bass solo; the second part swings, with a Thelonious Monk-like unison bebop melody from piano and tenor saxophone. …
When she suppresses her wry sensibility enough that only a glimmer of it shows, as is the case for a good half of “The Lost Chords,” Ms. Bley’s sensibility stands out; she’s easily one of the best composers we’ve had in the last 40 years of jazz.
Ben Ratliff, The New York Times
When the trio was born, Bley was catapulted into the unfamiliar role of piano soloist rather than composer/arranger... Now she sounds completely at home with it, in a cryptically witty, stripped-down, Thelonious Monk-like way. In fact, this album frequently recalls the later Monk quartet recordings in its elliptical approaches to melody, the interdependence of casually scattered melodic fragments and rhythm, and the interplay of the piano and playful sax. … Billy Drummond plays superbly throughout. He is exclamatory and insistent on Hip Hop, its theme built out of blippy accents against the percussion, with Bley getting gospelly on it. He quietly whispers behind Shepard’s long, tremulous tenor tones and Swallow’s purring bass on Tropical Depression – tightly riding the cymbals on the inquisitive, slightly puzzled-sounding Red, dramatic on the more abstract, suite-like title track. Sheppard paces the story superbly, expanding his solos gradually from short, staccato figures to sweeping Rollins-like long lines. Compelling Carla Bley themes with great playing.
John Fordham, The Guardian
The Lost Chords est un disque qu’il est impossible de ne pas aimer. Il suffit de se rendre sur la plage 8 et de déguster le solo de basse de Swallow. Carla Bley n’a pas fini de nous séduire. Indispensable!
Christian Vincent, La voix du nord
Falls während Carla Bleys Europa-Tour im Oktober 2003 wirklich Akkorde verlorengingen, so haben Andy Sheppard und Steve Swallow sie mit Sicherheit wiedergefunden. Auf dieser Live-CD beflügeln die beiden mit schöne Intonation – unverkennbar Swallows singender Bass sowie Sheppards Sopran- und Tenorsax – die subtilen Stücke der Pianistin. Schlagzeuger Billy Drummond sorgt mit solidem Groove für Bodenhaftung. Rauschender Applaus.
Sven Thielmann, Stereoplay
Nach ihrem grandiosen Big-Band-Album Looking for America hat sich die Komponistin und Pianistin Carla Bley wieder der Arbeit in einer kleineren Formation zugewandt. ... Melos, analytischer Verstand und Spielwitz sind bei Carla Bley aufs Glücklichste vereint. „This album could be seen as a continuation of search, from ‚Looking’ to ‚Lost’“, schreibt sie mit der ihr eigenen Ironie. … Das Quartett spielt virtuos, doch ganz uneitel; und bei niemanden klingt der E-Bass so filigran wie bei Steve Swallow, Carla Bleys Lebenspartner.
Manfred Papst, Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag
After “Looking for America”, an album for big band that had taken three years to write, I had to look for a new project. It was time to do something with a small group. Playing duets with Steve Swallow was too hard, and Steve and I had already toured and recorded as a trio with Andy Sheppard. The next size up was a quartet. The obvious move was to add Billy Drummond, who had already played drums with 4 x 4 and the big band, to the trio.

When my agent in Europe asked me what the group would be called, the answer came to me instantly: The Lost Chords.

I had come across the sheet music for a piece called “The Lost Chord”, by Sir Arthur Bliss when I was a child. With great excitement I’d played the piece on the piano, hoping to discover a chord that was more beautiful than any I had ever heard. Unfortunately, the harmonies were rather ordinary, and the memory of that disappointment must have stuck with me longer than I could have imagined.

For maybe the first time, the title for one of my pieces preceded its musical content. There was a dressing room piano at the last concert of the summer 2002 big band tour and, while everyone packed up, I decided to get ahead start on my next project. I sat there and picked out some inspired, lost-sounding chords. I had to spell out their notes with a blunt pencil on the back of a program, since I had no manuscript paper. When I got home I couldn’t find the program. Those seminal chords were truly and appropriately lost. But I managed to remember some aspects of them and immediately began work on the piece that was to become “Lost Chords”

The next to hatch was “Red”. It was named after a chicken I had befriended. It probably deserved a better name but I could never come up with one. I liked the fact that I couldn’t play the melody on the piano.

Then came the agonizingly long and difficult birth, or rather adoption, of “Three Blind Mice”. It was as difficult to play as it was to write. I gave Andy and Billy the hardest parts.

Since I seem to be talking about compositions as if they were flesh and blood offspring, “Tropical Depression” could be described as a foster child. Originally written in 1985 as incidental music for a mini-operatic version of “For Under The Volcano”, based on Malcolm Lowry’s novel, it featured Jack Bruce. When it was first performed at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles its name was “4/4 Under The Volcano”. Re-named “Tropical Depression”, it was handed from band to band for the next 15 years, until it finally found a home with The Lost Chords.

“Hip Hop” was written for big band, but we played it in a trio version first. When it didn’t make the cut for the “Looking For America” album, I knew it would be perfect for the quartet. And we already knew how to play it!

We always record more material than we need for an album, so there are always pieces that, for one reason or another, don’t make it. I often re-orchestrate these orphans for the next group. One of the pieces the quartet played that didn’t end up on the Lost Chords album was “Oni Puladi”. That poor piece (“Ida Lupino” played backwards) must be 30 years old and it still hasn’t been placed.

This album could be seen as a continuation of a search, from “Looking” to “Lost”. One small corner of American music.

Carla Bley