Steve Swallow: Home (ECM 1160)

 

Steve Swallow
Home

Sheila Jordan voice
Steve Kuhn piano
David Liebman saxophones
Lyle Mays synthesizer
Bob Moses drums
Steve Swallow bass
Recorded September 1979 at Columbia Recording Studios, New York
Engineer: David Baker
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Quiet as is proper for such places;
The street, subdued, half-snow, half-rain,
Endless, but ending in the darkened doors.
Inside, they who will be there always,
Quiet as is proper for such people—
Enough for now to be here, and
To know my door is one of these.
–Robert Creeley, “Return”

Home is a title, and an album, of many masks. Though by the time of this recording, bassist Steve Swallow had been involved in a string of projects with Gary Burton and Carla Bley, here his creative sediments sifted into their comfort zone on a label that was to become a home in and of itself. A kindred home may be found in the poetry of Robert Creeley, whose tender colloquialism is Swallow’s sounding board throughout. With the unmistakable smolder of Sheila Jordan’s vocal warmth, its meaning is never lost. Recorded just two months after Playground and featuring three from that Steven Kuhn-led quartet (Swallow being the only substitution), Home betrays yet another of its valences through the sympathetic approach of its musicians.

Lilting and lovely are the names of the game in “Some Echoes.” The verdant synth work of Lyle Mays draws us immediately into Dave Liebman’s soprano leaps. The rasp of each inflected phrase wafts like a breeze through the open doors of the album’s cover, bringing with it the scents of a long-dead memory gradually reanimated with every freshly raked word. These Jordan plants carefully and from a safe distance, allowing Kuhn’s busy fingers to prance across the ivories in her afterglow (“She was young…” and “Colors”). During the slow-motion somersault that is “Nowhere one…,” a sumptuous horn pulls out any lingering threads from Jordan’s introductory call to melodic arms. Rather than see the battlefield as a place of violence, however, the music embraces it as a place of adoration; a landscape replete with fading lives and their instant renewals. In all of these, we feel the nostalgia that enlivens such lyrical swathes as the title track and the engaging “In the Fall.”

The album saves its most indelible marks for those moments where whimsy and mysticism entwine. The pinnacle thereof is reached in “Ice Cream.” From Swallow’s sublime opening to Jordan’s varicolored sprinkles, not to mention a cosmic turn from Kuhn, this one caramelizes to perfection. The playfulness continues in “Echo,” which not only sports Liebman’s best solo in the set, but also practices what it preaches with some didactic volleys between Kuhn’s right and left hands. The band plays us out in the throes of “Midnight,” where quotations of “Three Blind Mice” rub shoulders with a haunting drone before falling into a stream of nocturnal consciousness. The moonlight of Jordan’s voice at last cuts a soft figure from the clouds, becoming one with the dawn.

Swallow is a joy. He is always on the move, bringing a range of moods to the table. From the swagger of youthful ignorance to the pensive affair between the self and regret, it’s all here in one slick package. Jordan’s involvement makes it all the more so. In contrast to her extended poetics in Playground, here she is the keystone to the music at hand, setting the stage for every scene. One need only listen to the way she infuses “You didn’t think…” with such guttural optimism using only a couplet to gain insight into her brilliance.

This is simply infectious music, smooth and tessellated, with not a single false step to be noted.

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