Crispell/Peacock/Motian: Nothing ever was, anyway – Music of Annette Peacock (ECM 1626/27)

Nothing ever was, anyway – Music of Annette Peacock

Marilyn Crispell piano
Gary Peacock double-bass
Paul Motian drums
Annette Peacock voice
Recorded September 1996 at Right Track Recording Studios, New York
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

It’s astonishing to think that the music of Annette Peacock, given its rare and just dues on this essential 1997 release, has not been buried under more attention. Then again, when listening to it in the hands of pianist Marilyn Crispell (in her ECM debut), bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Paul Motian, we feel it casting itself into a well of reflection so deep that it burrows out the other side of the earth, far beyond our reach. That it remains true to heart is part of its magic.

Annette’s mode of choice is the ballad, through which she forges sweeping landscapes of understatement. Her music is skeletal in the truest sense, using bones not as anchors for flesh, but rather as chambers for marrow and quiet emotional floods. The title track doubles as bookend, clothing us with and stripping us of a sound-world that thrives on the shadows of its language. These utterances are fleeting, imperative smiles that turn cloud into rain, lifting themselves like sentient decals from the sheet of time and turning slowly toward the splash of adhesion introduced by the rhythm section’s entrance. That the latter borders on superfluous is by no fault of the musicians, but by nature of Annette’s music, which is anything but simple. It is, rather, so full that the stony and rounded sighs our guides manage to elicit breathe with the density of a philosophical act.

Crispell tours a gallery of traveling installations, reflections of experiences served on two CDs for the nourishment of the sonically hungry. “Butterflies that I feel inside me” finds bassist Peacock in motion, redefining space with the humble genius he has brought to so many ECM sessions before and since. Here there is something more than the sum of his strings, as each player brings out the best in the other. Listen to the fissures of pure bliss in “open, to love” or “Albert’s Love Theme” and be moved as the trio opens intuitively, cutting a relenting and cinematic cloth into silhouettes of reason. An unexpected cameo from the composer herself draws a frayed thread through “Dreams (If time weren’t).” Annette’s vocals, raw to the core, embrace words like children of sentiment in a tale of fate and circumstance. This opens a path for Gary to indulge his apportioned commentaries, and for Crispell to voice every whisper of the heart that moves her. Following this is “touching,” which might as well be the ethos of the entire set. Touching is the focus of its attention. Touching is the embodiedness of the mood, which selects points of contact so carefully that it can only be spontaneous.

Let us not gloss over Motian, who is a wonder. His banter is forever sincere and offsets monologues with unerring intimacy. From the Carl Stalling-inspired “cartoon” and on through a string of brilliant vignettes that includes “Miracles” and “Ending,” we arrive at the arrayed sensitivity of “Blood.” It is the taste of an album that, by its end, has become a mirror within a mirror, at once reflector and reflected. Needling its compass toward the stillest horizon, it stands out like a name in a culture of anonymity.

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