Annette Peacock: an acrobat’s heart (ECM 1733)

an acrobat's heart

Annette Peacock
an acrobat’s heart

Annette Peacock vocal, piano
The Cikada String Quartet
Henrik Hannisdal violin
Odd Hannisdal violin
Marek Konstantynowicz viola
Morten Hannisdal cello
Recorded January and April, 2000 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

we play our own music
we sing our own song
I make my own music
for right or for wrong

With these words, Annette Peacock reveals the shape of an acrobat’s heart, a portrait of a consummate artist. In her voice of voices is a world of wisdom, poised like a golf ball atop a tee—only instead of soaring down the fairway it sinks deep into the earth and marks its passage with remainders of relationships, dreams, travels. Previously represented on ECM as a ghostly compositional force to be reckoned with (viz: Paul Bley’s Ballads and Marilyn Crispell’s tribute record Nothing ever was, anyway), after years of preparation in response to a label commission Peacock at last spread her fan, nestling her voice and pianism in a bed softened by the presence of the Cikada String Quartet.

(Photo by Alastair Thain)

The bed metaphor proves apt, for in her plush, if sometimes distant, textures Peacock invites the listener into a space canopied by sheets. With an imploring yet never desperate tone, she turns experience into diary and diary into melody. More than personal, these songs are personified, each a character on a stage whose name is love. In this respect, piano and string quartet work like a giant heart, translating blood into life as might the poet turn breath into light. The instruments churn soil for every vocal flower, piano loosing handfuls of descriptive raindrops to water them. Some of those flowers are supple (“Over.”), while others are fallible (“u slide”); some liberated (“b 4 u said”), others wedded to time (“ways it isn’t”). More often, however, Peacocok is content mining the interstices of indecision for valuable emotional ore, unraveling a genuinely honest songcraft along the way. Heaviness of subject matter aside, there is an ethereal quality to her framework that turns questions into reality by shrouding them in fulfillment.

The lyrics say only what they need to say. Be they the open communications of “weightless” or the fresh wounds of “Free the memory,” one can expect a minimum of dress, for indeed the more one listens, and in spite of an intense physicality, the more the body becomes immaterial and passion reigns as emptiness. Peacock’s distinctly lilting cadences draw upon a stark cinema, thrown onto the screen by a projector of innocence. With a single utterance she can gut your expectations and fill them with conversations, at once profuse and fragmentary with age. Against these, “Camille” is a relatively mysterious turning of the mirror, catching just enough luminescence to clarify what is under the microscope.

The comet tails of Peacock’s surroundings are laden with affect. They turn like a mobile above a crib, connecting one galaxy to another with a rug weaver’s eye. The Cikadas brush lithely across her paper, erasing as much as they inscribe. For the most part, their gestures are bowed, although the rare pizzicato bloom (“The heart keeps”) lets its fragrance be known. Such moments take the album’s stream back to its course like an unsure lover back to the skin, to the warmth and closeness in which this music so wholeheartedly believes. The quartet also provides reprieve (in relation to the density of its surroundings) in “Unspoken,” floats us into “Safe” (the pianism of which becomes a speech act), and haunts again in “Lost at Last,” colored in lapsed time.

ECM has done quiet and significant work in extolling the virtues of jazz’s most intriguing songstresses, among them Sidsel Endresen, Norma Winstone, and most recently Judith Berkson. Yet with this release the label has unwrapped a significant gift indeed, one that keeps on giving the more you let it in.

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