Steve Swallow bass
Steve Kuhn piano
Carla Bley organ
Karen Mantler synthesizer, harmonica
Hiram Bullock guitar
Robby Ameen drums
Don Alias percussion
Gary Burton vibes
John Scofield guitar
Recorded and mixed September-November 1991 by Tom Mark and Steve Swallow, Grog Kill Studio, Willow, New York
Additional recording by Robin Coxe-Yeldham at Berklee Studio, Boston, MA
Mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound
Synthesizer programming: Harvey Jones
General co-ordination: Karen Mantler
Produced by Steve Swallow and Carla Bley
Release date: March 1, 1992
In this self-titled set, bassist and composer Steve Swallow proves his strengths in both capacities. Leading a septet that includes Steve Kuhn on piano, Carla Bley on organ, Karen Mantler on synthesizer and harmonica, Hiram Bullock on guitar, Robby Ameen on drums, and Don Alias on percussion, along with special guests Gary Burton on vibes and John Scofield on guitar, he adds yet another hue to his spectrum of colors. Swallow has always been a lively player, and here his ability to bring high-energy grooves into focus sings with vibrancy. That said, a recumbent “William And Mary” pans the camera to Bley’s organ, as do “Thirty Five” and the Scofield-centric romance of “Doin’ It Slow,” for a more touching mode of expression.
Swallow pulls out all the stops in “Belles.” Kuhn introduces the tune, and the album proper, as an experience in which to luxuriate. Swallow’s nylon-rich five-string bass sounds more guitar-like than ever in its navigations of a soothing improvisational climate. Ameen and Alias give us plenty of beat to bite on, while Mantler’s synthesizer draws a humid undercurrent. Those electronic strains carry over into “Soca Symphony,” as does a certain emotional uplift—a cloud on which Swallow will ride until he lays his head in the pillow of Burton’s vibes.
“Slender Thread,” another quiet seduction, strikes that balance of kitsch and sophistication Swallow walks so well. Mantler’s harmonica rings out across the night, while the bass swims its own waters. But it’s Swallow’s crafting of tunes like “Thrills And Spills” that brings a pulse to every note. In addition to being another moment in the sun for Ameen and Alias, it finds Scofield tearing a hole in the atmosphere with scalpel precision. Swallow matches him lick for lick. “Ballroom” is another swinging excursion with clever chord changes and geometric guitar work. Grooving somewhere between those two poles is “Playing With Water,” a bossa nova of intimately epic proportions. Like the fadeouts in some of what precedes, it could potentially go on forever and, either way, resonates in the heart long after silence puts a finger to its lips.