Gary Peacock Trio: Tangents (ECM 2533)

Tangents

Gary Peacock Trio
Tangents

Marc Copland piano
Gary Peacock bass
Joey Baron drums
Recorded May 2016, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: August 25, 2017

Following the 2015 debut, Now This, Gary Peacock helms his trio with pianist Marc Copland and drummer Joey Baron once again into pristine waters. As if by force of metaphor, the trio indeed coheres like a finely made vessel in the set’s opener, “Contact.” The first of five Peacock originals, it opens with the bassist by his not-soon-to-be-lonesome, a voice with something to say. As Copland’s postmodern lyricism and Baron’s scintillating cymbals step into frame, we find ourselves moving from doorway to outside world. Throughout Peacock’s other compositions, whether in the evocative “December Greenwings” or the narrative title track, his bassing rises and falls as a city breeze while Copland fills in the footsteps of every pedestrian footprint below. And in the enthrallments of “Tempei Tempo” and “Rumblin’” he blossoms into jagged grooves that only reinforce their adhesive qualities with every rhythmic turn.

For this session, Baron pens the rightfully bubbling “Cauldron,” a sonic stew that goes down one hearty morsel at a time. His detail-rich drumming proves to be an intuitive foil for Copland’s chord voicings, as well as for Peacock’s ebullience. “In And Out” is another Baron creation that finds the drummer in lithe duet with Peacock. Copland contributes his own “Talkin’ Blues,” which by its sharp turns and fancy footwork glides over a uniquely joyous terrain.

The trio’s resplendent takes on nocturnal standards like Alex North’s “Spartacus” and Miles Davis’s “Blue In Green” show us only what masters can do with the masters when recorded by the masters, while between them breathes the freely improvised “Empty Forest.” This gentle yet no-less-formidable beast of a tune hangs its stars from every tree to replenish a foliage withered by time.

Remarkable about Tangentsis how equally each player contributes to the overall sound. One could write its roster on a wheel, spin it at any moment, and find enjoyment by focusing on whatever name it lands on. Everyone is as much a listener as a crafter of that which is heard, a chaser of the same muse whose love of communication is as indelible as the sentiments conveyed here.

Gary Peacock Trio: Now This (ECM 2428)

Now This

Gary Peacock Trio
Now This

Marc Copland piano
Gary Peacock double bass
Joey Baron drums
Recorded July 2014 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After decades of sharing a legendary board with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, bassist of bassists Gary Peacock rides a choice wave of his own with pianist Marc Copland and drummer Joey Baron. Now in his 80th year, Peacock needs no introduction except to those who’ve been living with their hands over their ears. He’s the pioneer of a lyrical and dynamically inflected style, a consummate player who knows no boundaries of expression, and, let us not forget, an influential composer to boot. The latter point finds appropriate stress on Now This, which nestles a few featherless tunes among the fully plumed.

GPT
(Photo credit: Eliott Peacock)

Perennial classics such as “Moor,” which here achievements the wonderment of renewal, and “Gaia,” which opens the set, confirm the breadth of Peacock’s abilities. Copland’s lyricism is a most welcome addition to their unfolding, peering into the heart of this music and making it crystalline. Yet the unforced feeling of emergence is shared by all, perceivable in a glint off Baron’s cymbals and in Peacock’s own forthright intimacy. Even at his most cautious, as in “Shadows,” the bassist is so sure of where he is going. Not because he sees the end in sight, but because he knows he will always arrive where he is meant to arrive. It’s one thing to trust your bandmates so wholeheartedly; quite another to trust yourself. Such commitment is a lifetime in the making.

“Christa” melts like a candy in the summer sun and finds Peacock humming through his instrument like someone newly in love. There’s also “Vignette,” a set highlight—not least of all for Copland’s beautification. The pianist’s elucidations are such that it’s all one can do to fend off surrender. That being said, his two composition credits elicit some of the most balanced playing on the record. Between the eddying, watercolor world of “And Now” and the slippery “Noh Blues,” there’s much to savor in the currency of their exchange. Baron, for his part, contributes one in turn: “Esprit de Muse.” What begins as an enigmatic tune, however, gains traction midway through and rides the rails into some concentrated swing. Another gem comes by way of Scott LaFaro’s well-polished “Gloria’s Step.” Lithe and limber as ever, Peacock navigates its familiar corridors with eyes closed and heart open, while Copland and Baron provide equally percussive support into interlocking bliss.

As epitomized by “Requiem,” last of the Peacock originals and of the set as a whole, Now This is marked by the sheer maturity of its players. To be sure, so long as you walk into this album without expectations of dramatic flourishes, you will walk out of it with something much longer-lasting: grace.

(To hear samples of Now This, click here.)

Bley/Peacock/Motian: Not Two, Not One (ECM 1670)

Not Two, Not One

Not Two, Not One

Paul Bley piano
Gary Peacock double-bass
Paul Motian drums
Recorded January 1998 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This album documents a monumental coming together of pianist Paul Bley, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Paul Motian, a combination not seen on record since Paul Bley with Gary Peacock, laid down in 1963 and issued 1970 as ECM’s third release. Here the trio picks up where it left off some 35 years before, furthering a journey of deconstruction its members have since charted separately in various combinations. And combinations are really what this session is about, for the trio turns kaleidoscopically throughout, emphasizing certain angles over others in a constant shifting of crystals. One moment finds us mired in the quiet urban fantasies of “Don’t You Know,” in which Bley pours out every last drop from his flask of introspection, while the next tantalizes with “Fig Foot” (“Big Foot” by another name), last heard on Adventure Playground. Bley latterly dances like fire, erratic yet unified by elemental force, following a pattern that is beyond our ken. Peacock is duly inspired in his solo against a delicate swing from Motian, who stays the course with an effervescent washtub beat.

The album’s most notable soundings come from Bley’s pianism, which revels in the depths granted it by studio access to a Bösendorfer. Bley bathes in its open possibilities, moving from a sunny intro in “Not Zero – In Three Parts” to lively reveals of the instrument’s vibrating inner core. This touches off a spate of drums from Motian, whose own soliloquy takes root in the ethereal, and inspires from Peacock a solo that balances integrity with unruliness and ushers in the trio proper with bold progression. Bley’s zither-like touches tip the scales toward all-out swing. “Now” similarly digs low, forming a cascading and complex solo of bridge-cabled intensity. “Vocal Tracked” also finds Bley alone, this time pushing notes like pins into an entomologist’s specimen board. Peacock likewise enchants with “Entelechy,” an elliptical solo track that shows a master at work. He further contributes two tunes: the pirouetted “Intente” and the restless marginalia of “Set Up Set.” Each turns itself like a sentient children’s top, waiting for the moment when its inertia will falter.

Yet together is how the trio shines. In “Noosphere” they work as one amorphous blob, carefree yet passionate. A many-petaled solo from Peacock bespeaks an undaunted hand, thereby flinging the veil of obscurity in favor of transparent expression against Motian’s profound susurrations. And after a luxurious dip in the balladic waters of “Dialogue Amour,” the trio tightens the drawstring with “Not Zero – In One Part,” a brief and burrowing coda.

These three sages of modern jazz neither break down borders nor blaze trails. Rather, they ignore those borders altogether and shape their music as it comes: bare yet flavorful enough to shock your taste buds into bliss.

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.

Ralph Towner and Gary Peacock: A Closer View (ECM 1602)

A Closer View

Ralph Towner classical and 12-string guitars
Gary Peacock double-bass
Recorded December 1995 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

If Oracle, the first ECM strictly duo collaboration between bassist Gary Peacock and guitarist Ralph Towner, was Mt. Kilimanjaro, this is Everest. Stepping out of the intimate cave of the former, these uncompromising sages wrap their oracular magic around a set of 12 (mostly) new tunes. Whereas before Peacock’s compositions were in prominence, now they recede in the relief of Towner’s, each a pebble of the larger whole. The sole exception is “Moor,” which cameos after its early appearance on Paul Bley with Gary Peacock. From that session it retains its drama, and like “Infrared” stretches the envelope to 16 strings. Yet for the most part the alchemy is introspectively, if robustly, adorned. In “Opalesque” we can’t help but take to the fluidity of Peacock’s abilities like a diver to the sea. It is an instinctive conversion, one that matches Towner depth for depth. “Viewpoint” is the shortest of these stories, and holds a magnifying glass to the trail of clues left by “Mingusiana.” A subtle and crawling allusion, it skates across decades of experience to serve us the past as if it were the present. The freer considerations of “Postcard To Salta” are notable for the percussive qualities they bring out in Towner’s playing against a solo from Peacock that flows like poetry. The bassist glows also in the hearth of “Beppo,” but not before the expository “Toledo” flows from Towner’s classical. This solo masterpiece is worth the album alone, and gives due relativity to the genetic mysteries of “Amber Captive” and the title track, which like a muslin curtain filters light with a crosshatching of nostalgic stains and scents: the very stuff of life.

This aching album moves on without us, bearing its pulse in the bones. It is a lift of the head in sunrise, a touch of the lips to forehead, a misty star shining through to the end of every dream. The drop may look far, but in such fatherly hands we know a single step will traverse it.

Jarrett/Peacock/Motian: At The Deer Head Inn (ECM 1531)

Keith Jarrett
Gary Peacock
Paul Motian
At The Deer Head Inn

Keith Jarrett piano
Gary Peacock bass
Paul Motian drums
Recorded September 16, 1992 at the Deer Head Inn
Engineer: Kent Heckman
Produced by Bill Goodwin

By the fall of 1992, Keith Jarrett had already spent 30 years as a notable jazz performer. What better way to celebrate than to return to this record’s eponymous venue in his birthplace of Allentown, Pennsylvania for a once-in-a-lifetime gig? Switching out his usual go-to, Jack DeJohnette, for Paul Motian (no stranger to Jarrett, with whom he’d worked in the 70s), the trio works wonders with the new colors the latter provides. Peacock and Jarrett are both verbose players who manage never to step on each other’s toes. With Motian backing them, they take longer pauses for reflection, listening to the wind as it blows through their leaves. His presence and panache are as palpable as the prevalence of alliterations in this sentence, bringing an irresistible brushed beat to the squint-eyed groove of Jaki Byard’s “Chandra.” That hook keeps us sharp to improvisatory angle and inspires some youthful banter from Peacock, who feeds off those drums like Christmas. Motian excels further in the balance of fire and ice that bubble throughout “You And The Night And The Music.” The band also dips into Miles Davis-era waters with glowing renditions of “Solar” and “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Atop quilted commentaries from the man at the kit, Jarrett’s unpacking of these timeless melodies is the cherry on the sundae. Sweet toppings also abound in the laid-back “Basin Street Blues,” in which, with closed eyes and an open heart, Peacock finds the perfect resolution for Jarrett’s uncontainable fire. All three musicians up the ante in “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Jarrett negotiates its changes like breathing while Peacock and Motian speak in vocabularies just beyond the radar of feasibility. Before we know it, we’re caught up in a joyous surge and relaxation. By ending with “It’s Easy To Remember,” the trio saves its finest translucent china for last.

The value of ECM as a live archive is proven beyond the shadow of a doubt in this recording. This is where it’s at.

Gary Peacock/Ralph Towner: Oracle (ECM 1490)

Gary Peacock
Ralph Towner
Oracle

Gary Peacock double-bass
Ralph Towner 12-string and classical guitars
Recorded May 1993 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

With so much virtuosity living inside bassist Gary Peacock and guitarist Ralph Towner, one might expect from this duo a showcase of lively showmanship. And while this it most certainly is at heart, on the whole we are given an understated album recorded out of deepest respect for its listeners. The improv is robust yet tender and marked by a distinct patina around the edges. Above all, however, I find the playing to be forward thinking and worldly. Peacock and Towner bring a cartographer’s care to tracks like “Gaya” and “Inside Inside.” Programmatic energies abound in “Flutter Step” and “Burly Hello,” each speaking as if behind cupped hands into the ears of a secret joy, while the turns of “Empty Carrousel” resolve into a hazy picture that blurs even as it develops. “Hat And Cane” gives us a happy-go-lucky reprieve, its effervescent licks crossing the postcard of “St. Helens” into the title track. What begins as a quiet breathing exercise turns full somersaults for the album’s most intense unions. Finishing with “Tramonto,” we find the duo at its emotive best.

Oracle is like the ocean: we know its overall shape but the movement of every wave is at the whim of something unseen that flows through all of us.

Bley/Peacock/Oxley/Surman: In The Evenings Out There (ECM 1488)

 

In The Evenings Out There

Paul Bley piano
Gary Peacock bass
Tony Oxley drums
John Surman baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Recorded September 1991 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This wondrous date finds pianist Paul Bley, reedman John Surman, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Tony Oxley in a blissful state of affairs. Not since the deeply felt Fragments had a quartet so honestly captured the spirit of free jazz at its most humbling. The music on In The Evenings Out There, punning on the Carla Bley tune “In The Mornings Out There,” is a canyon in ECM’s vast improvisatory continent. “Afterthoughts” sets the tone with a voice that whispers like memory yet speaks of the here and now. It moves from somber tears to insistent runs, from horizontal planes to sharp and rugged inclines, in the space of a heartbeat. With “Portrait Of A Silence,” we find that the album is more about space than time, for each facet of this misted jewel is made of various combos. This, the first of two solos from Peacock, reveals a player who knows his instrument like his own body. He explores architectural details of jazz that others too often neglect and grinds them down into handfuls of prayers.

Some of the titles seem arbitrary. “Soft Touch,” for one, brings out some of the album’s sharpest points. Yet one doesn’t listen to such music for track listings. One surrenders instead to the lovely geometric exercise of “Speak Easy” or the full quartet musings of “Interface.” Surman’s timeworn baritone seeks nourishment in the latter’s shadows, bringing us into “Alignment,” which recalls his self-referential solo work elsewhere. His bass clarinet in “Article Four” speaks that same nocturnal language, tracing its own demise like a shooting star. “Fair Share” is a buoyant duet between Bley and Peacock that breathes by the edge of understanding and drops us into a bog of sentiment. Bley offers the album’s final words. The solo “Married Alive” crosses over into explorations with Oxley in “Spe-cu-lay-ting” before ending with “Note Police,” breaking through the clouds at last with unfettered light.

This is an intuitive sort of music-making, brimming with lessons of hardship. Utterly remarkable.