Markus Stockhausen: Cosi Lontano … Quasi Dentro (ECM 1371)

 

Markus Stockhausen
Cosi Lontano … Quasi Dentro

Markus Stockhausen trumpet, fluegelhorn, synthesizer
Gary Peacock bass
Fabrizio Ottaviucci piano
Zoro Babel drums
Recorded March 1988 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Trumpeter Markus Stockhausen follows, not leads, this haunting improvisation session with Gary Peacock on bass, Fabrizio Ottaviucci on piano, and Zoro Babel on drums. The colors are as rich as the names on the roster, and work their way through eight improvisatory spaces with varying degrees of clarity. “So Far,” for instance, begins like fingers groping along the wall of a pitch-dark room, awakening after an undisclosed period of unconsciousness. Like you, it doesn’t know where it is. You hear drums, cymbals, a bass, can feel the rattling of a piano in your ribcage. There is resolution only in that last morsel of starvation, where Peacock’s gentle scramble over a drone of horns in “Forward” bursts like a play of light and shadow while Babel plays 52 Pickup on the periphery. “Late” features a rare arco turn from Peacock, who scratches a treatise’s worth of indecipherable letters at the center of every galaxy Stockhausen traces around him. Yet the proceedings aren’t all slip and slide, for “Across Bridges” gives us a hefty dose of traction, as if throwing a final memory our way before capture. Bass and drums dance in a free conversation with Stockhausen, who lays down a refracted song “In Parallel.” This blossoming of after-midnight sentiments and avenues pales into “Breaking,” a concise staccato package unwrapped as if by a child at the base of a toppling Christmas tree. Babel sits out “Through,” another excursion into starlight, rising only upon the latter waves of “Almost Inside,” which over an inescapable hum rise and fall like eventide on the shoreline of a desolate island.

You’re not going to find your foot tapping to this one, but your mind will already know its rhythms before the first note graces your ears.

Gary Peacock: Guamba (1352)

Gary Peacock
Guamba

Gary Peacock bass
Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones
Palle Mikkelborg trumpet, fluegelhorn
Peter Erskine drums, drum computer
Recorded March 1987 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Despite the fact that bassist Gary Peacock has emoted some of the liveliest passages in his long stint with the Keith Jarrett trio, as frontman he has always shown us the merciful heart that moves him. Listen to the eponymous opener of Guamba, and you hear not the rhythmist but a parent tendering a lullaby for his sleeping child. Only after this Escherian staircase in sound is Peacock joined by his session mates—Jan Garbarek on tenor and soprano saxophone, Palle Mikkelborg on trumpet and fluegelhorn, and Peter Erskine on drums—for “Requiem,” which lulls us into a low-slung saddle of bass and drums before Garbarek’s razor-sharp agitations sober us. Yet Garbarek also shows great sensitivity on this date, bowing out for the beguiling trio of “Celina” and crackling with Mikkelborg over a smooth grounding in “Thyme Time.” In this upbeat number, Erskine takes the lead amid a brocade of drum computer accents. Peacock takes us aside again at the start of “Lila.” His steps are watered by droplets of cymbal, every strum a burgeoning shoot spreading Garbarekian flowers, and nourished by Mikkelborg’s sunshine. Erskine delights yet again with his delicate precision, and with the variegated rhythms that lure us into “Introending.” Peacock dances here amid a string of horns, making for a fantastic ride on par with the subtle grooves of Manu Katché. We end in a bed of “Gardenia,” another solo around which our leader’s band mates slide with utmost care. Garbarek has hardly been gentler, giving Mikkelborg more than enough canvas across which to bleed watercolor into the final exhalation.

Keith Jarrett Trio: Standards Live (ECM 1317)

 

Keith Jarrett Trio
Standards Live

Keith Jarrett piano
Gary Peacock bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded July 2, 1985 at the Palais dis Congrès Studios de la Grand Armée
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Take one look at the thoughtful cover art of this seminal Keith Jarrett release, and you’ll gain immediate insight into what makes his trio click. Each curvaceous line brings a lifetime of movement, of study, and of passion to bear on the music at hand. And with these six standards resurrected to such profound levels, there’s nothing not to like.

Just let the groove of “Falling In Love With Love” have its way, and the quicksand of the trio’s genius has you by the heart. Jarrett is in his element, crying his way through sibilant improvisatory arcs. Peacock surfaces for an engaging solo, Jarrett watching from the sidelines with duly attentive chording before sharing an intuitive stichomythia with DeJohnette. Peacock grabs the spotlight again in “The Old Country,” in which piano and drums spread a subtle launching pad for his low yet adroit flights. Jarrett builds on these, dancing on air through every motivic change before putting the starlight back into “Stella By Starlight.” Ever the sonic chameleon in a world of primary colors, he achieves the musical equivalent of alchemy once his ever-faithful rhythm section dashes in its own mysterious elements. A magnetic bass solo draws DeJohnette’s cymbals like iron filings before ending in a forgiving embrace. “Too Young To Go Steady” receives an absorbing treatment, the band whipping up a soft peak that melts smoothly into resolution. Next is a spirited version of “The Way You Look Tonight,” which unpacks oodles of bliss and shows the trio form at its finest. A whoop-worthy solo from DeJohnette forms an enlivening bridge to the vamp, playing us out into “The Wrong Blues,” which does everything oh so right.

While all the tunes on this album are classic, the untouchable performances make them doubly so.

Beyond recommended.

Keith Jarrett Trio: Setting Standards – New York Sessions (ECM 2030-32)

 

Keith Jarrett Trio
Setting Standards – New York Sessions

Keith Jarrett piano
Gary Peacock double-bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded January 1983 at Power Station, New York City
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“I feel we are an underground band that has, just by accident, a large public.”
–Keith Jarrett, on his trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette

The piano is considered by some to be a “complete” instrument. On it, one can compose anything from a simple etude to the grandest of symphonies, and its most adored practitioners may be said to be whole at the keyboard. The beauty of a player like Keith Jarrett is that he makes the piano sound so gorgeously incomplete, emphasizing as he does the unfathomable volume of sentiments he would convey through it if given the time. As it is, we get the barest taste of immortality. Jarrett carries the entire weight of any composition in even the most linear of melodic lines. In doing so, he opens doors that few could step through unharmed.

And yet, step through them the rare soul has, and perhaps none so ingenious as bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. When listening to the bliss that rolls off Jazz’s proverbial tongue throughout Setting Standards, however, we must constantly remind ourselves that the three albums collected therein represent the first time Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette had ever stepped into the studio as a bona fide trio. The three men were, of course, far from strangers, but produced such unreal synergy in these unrehearsed sessions that they might as well have been cut from the same cloth. The trio would also prove in a way cathartic for Jarrett, who was already beginning to buckle under the pressures of an increasingly demanding listenership. For this, he turned to the tried and true, if not to the plied and blue, for solace.

With Standards, Vol. 1 (ECM 1255) Jarrett and company set things straight from the get-go by showing us the “Meaning Of The Blues.” This swath of melodious rain is the trio form at its best and never lets up until the very end. DeJohnette’s charcoal sketches in background add a quiet boldness. “All The Things You Are” is a more lighthearted, though no less intense, construction, and haunts Peacock’s nimble fingerwork with a visceral chord progression. Smoothness abounds in “It Never Entered My Mind,” a gentle tune that puts a new twist on the pessimism of balladry by resolving itself at moments into a hopeful groove. A hefty splash of freedom awaits us in “The Masquerade Is Over.” Peacock is on fire here, giving just the sort of fuel that Jarrett sets to such glorious conflagration. The latter’s soloing proves that not only is the masquerade over, but also that these musicians never hid behind masks in the first place. If any single facet of this jewel can be singled out, it is the stunning fifteen-and-a-half-minute rendition of “God Bless The Child” that concludes it. Peacock excels, taking the swing around the bar and back again.


Original cover

Standards, Vol. 2 (ECM 1289) is a shaded glen in Volume One’s verdant forest. Its mood is summed up perfectly in the title of the opening “So Tender,” which after a slow intro falls into the unity that so distinguishes this trio. Jarrett dances not on air but on fire in his pointillist lines, while Peacock and DeJohnette both captivate with their subtle, popping sound. “Moon And Sand” is an equally smooth ride through less traveled territories and finds Jarrett in a gentler mood. DeJohnette is also at his most delicate here, drawing circles in the sand with his brush. For “In Love In Vain” Jarrett spins from thematic threads a twin self, who for all his similarities breathes a different sort of politics in one of the set’s finest tunes. With every grunt, Jarrett voices only the tip of his creative iceberg. Peacock delights with a very elastic solo, which no matter how far it stretches stays locked to its theme as if by finger trap. Jarrett is at his lyrical best in “Never Let Me Go,” and skips to his Lou in “If I Should Lose You” before laying down the poetry of “I Fall In Love Too Easily” with a thick, tangible power.


Original cover

Prior to the release of Setting Standards, I hadn’t yet encountered the free play session that is Changes (ECM 1276) and what a joyful surprise it turned out to be, for never has the trio emoted in such a blissful mode. “Flying” is a heavenly diptych honed in delicacy and abandon. Here the band describes a decidedly aquatic territory, each tattered thread of melody flowing like the tendrils of a throbbing deep-sea creature whose eyes are its hearts. Jarrett spreads and shoots straight like an octopus, every pad suctioning to a new and exciting motif. Peacock, meanwhile, threads his fingers through a vast oceanic harp, stretching his emotive capacity to its limits. DeJohnette surfaces with a deeply digging solo before we end with Jarrett alone in a quiet, dissipating reflection. Peacock trails his starfish of a bass line through the pianistic coral reef of Part 2, he and DeJohnette inking their solos before hollering their way into an inescapable passion. The set ends in the refractions of “Prism.” And indeed the trio as a unit is not unlike a prism, separating every ray of light into its composite colors, likewise every ray of darkness into its whispered secrets. Jarrett’s expulsions heighten every inarticulable word that he writes, the breath of an energy that cannot be contained. The farther these reveries drift, the more life experience they carry back into the fold when they return.


Original cover

In a society gone astray from musical immediacy, it’s safe to point out Jarrett’s nexus as one of the more reliable vestiges where melody still blooms. With an average track length of nine minutes, these are quiet and endlessly interesting epics. Say what you will about Jarrett’s singing, which has sadly turned not a few off from these recordings, but I believe Peter Rüedi puts it best in his insightful liner notes when he says, “His groans and vocal outbursts, considered by many to be a quirk, are in fact nothing but a form of suffering at the thought that the abyss between the piano and sung melody can ultimately never be bridged, not even by Jarrett himself.” To these ears, Jarrett’s voice welcomes us into the intimacy of his creative spirit, so unfathomably expanded in the company of two fine musicians (and even finer spirits) whose talents can’t help but sing in their own complementary registers. And on that note, we mustn’t forget the contributions of Jarrett’s band mates, who constitute far more than anything the mere rubric of “rhythm section” might ever imply. How can we, for example, not shake our heads in wonder at DeJohnette’s consistent inventiveness, which singlehandedly reshaped the idioms at hand. And then there is Peacock, who for me is the bread and butter of the first two sessions. So carefully negotiating his path through various leaps and bounds, he seems to anticipate everything Jarrett throws his way. Just listen to his soloing on “It Never Entered My Mind” and “God Bless The Child,” and these words will mean nothing.

Through the two standards albums, Jarrett put the “Song” back into the Great American Songbook, and in Changes enlarged it with “Prism.” Now given the proper archival treatment in this 3-disc Old & New Masters edition commemorating 25 years of music-making, this unassuming surge of sonic bliss is now ours to cherish at will.

The camaraderie expressed in the booklet’s final session photo speaks for itself:

Gary Peacock: Voice from the Past – PARADIGM (ECM 1210)

ECM 1210

Gary Peacock
Voice from the Past ­– PARADIGM

Gary Peacock bass
Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones
Tomasz Stanko trumpet
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded August 1981, Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Jazz, sometimes, is like acting: a group of performers starts with a script of prewritten material, which then must be spun into a convincing world of characters. This is not to say that the music isn’t genuine. Quite the contrary: through the art of improvisation, through the indeterminacies of creative interaction, these musicians reveal their ability to give themselves to the moment, at the same time expressing something so deeply personal that one could never mistake their diction for that of anyone else. Saxophonist Jan Garbarek (in one of his more creative sessions) and trumpeter Tomasz Stanko play their roles with gusto on this formative recording from bassist Gary Peacock, whose dialogues with Jack DeJohnette in tunes like “Ode for Tomten” give us shades of their upcoming journey in Keith Jarrett’s trio. Our two horns slink as easily into the opening saunter of “Voice from the Past” as they do into more honed territories like “Moor” and the album title’s second half. Stanko is on slow fire in “Legends,” which also sports a fascinatingly threaded solo from Peacock, while “Allegory” fills for us a deep, earthy caldron that bubbles with DeJohnette’s percolations.

Like the surname of its composer, this music surprises the more it unfurls. Come for Peacock’s mature writing, stay for the fantastic soloing, and leave knowing you’ve gained a new perspective. One not to be buried.

<< Lester Bowie: The Great Pretender (ECM 1209)
>> Art Ensemble of Chicago: Urban Bushmen (ECM 1211/12)

Turning Gold Into Life: A Live Report from Birdland

September 3, 2011
Birdland
8:30 pm

Gary Peacock bass
Marc Copland piano
Victor Lewis drums

Alchemy is defined as the process by which common substance is transmuted into something precious. This implies, however, that the base materials with which one starts are intrinsically of little or no value. On a humid Saturday night, enveloped in the singular space of New York City’s Birdland, a trio of uncompromising alchemists humbly turned this craft on its head, rendering the equivalent of sonic gold into something so immediate that we could sense only magic in what lies beneath our feet.

Although to the seasoned jazz enthusiast none in this trio configuration needed introduction, an introduction was exactly what this relative newcomer got the moment Copland laid his touch to the keyboard. Despite having played and recorded with a substantial handful of ECM greats over the years (including Ralph Towner, John Abercrombie, and Joe Lovano), his sounds had never before reached these ears. Lewis, of course, has intersected with Carla Bley’s unstoppable force on not a few occasions for Watt, but it wasn’t until I found myself in the closed quarters of tonight’s unforgettable set that his own alchemies became clear to me.

In any other company, Peacock might have seemed a tower among cabins, but with such graceful companions at his side his leaps of intuition were comfortably clothed. The trio’s loosely wound thread felt all the more consistent for having strung seven beads full circle. The lack of any announced set list showed that behind even the most burnished compositions there is only the lone heartbeat that animates them all, and it was in this circadian rhythm that we all shared. The aorta of that organ was Peacock’s bass, which thrummed, vast and sincere, in a phrase of welcoming. Like a bouquet of bronze-gilded morning glories, his notes unfolded and wilted at the slightest changes in light and air pressure. Copland’s unassuming presence and painterly asides added sheen to Lewis’s kit, as smooth as meringue. From the start, one could see just how much life experience Peacock compressed into every gesture.

The two tunes that followed were siphoned from the same font of wisdom, where Copland’s raw filigree and chromatic finger work sprouted wings and careered skyward. With a diving cymbal, we dripped into an even wider ocean. The cruise of Peacock’s bass emerged from the fog, morphing into a train as Lewis gained pace. Such were the seamless geographical transitions that made their interactions so special. With unpretentious sophistication, piano and bass laid out one carefully tied knot after another, each grafted by the occasional arresting snare hit.

The lone bass, dancing lithely between sky and earth, introduced a wintry mix of frozen truths and melting memories, all netted by unexpected classical flourishes from piano. Like Satie and Fauré walking hand-in-hand, these impressions found themselves conversing with an immeasurable peace. It was into this lull that we were all drawn before the darkness unleashed a dose of satori in a cathartic drum solo. Beginning at the periphery—rims, edges of cymbals, and the air around both—and working his way inward like a groundswell in reverse, Lewis mixed his ingredients with such precision that Peacock couldn’t help but smile. Copland, meanwhile, stood meditatively offstage, before both brought down a groove that, despite its light feet, left gravid remainders. With so much possibility before them, Copland’s defenestrations found all the kaleidoscopic thermals they needed to coast to solid ground.

For the penultimate number, as was true throughout, Peacock seemed to tell a story. Lewis, delicate as ever, caressed the drums with brushes or hands directly. Sliding easily from head-nodding goodness to somber turns, Copland swung from Peacock’s whimsical double-stops into his most inspired solo of the night.

Closing in the more familiar territory of Mile Davis’s “All Blues,” the set found narrative closure after rolling to the bottom of a most melodic flight of stairs. Lewis kicked the energy into the solar system with this one, and there we stayed.

As I write this I have the Peacock/Copland duo album Insight in the foreground. Seeming as accurate a distillation as any of the concoction brewed live (though I miss Lewis’s colorations), it reminds me that “insight” was indeed the operative word tonight. An insight aquatic, lush, and ecological; an insight circumscribed not by fences but by open doors; an insight as fleeting as its sharing, and all the more gorgeous for it.

Gary Peacock: Shift In The Wind (ECM 1165)

ECM 1165

Gary Peacock
Shift In The Wind

Gary Peacock bass
Art Lande piano
Eliot Zigmund drums
Recorded February 1980 at Columbia Recording Studios, New York
Engineer: David Baker
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Though cataloged as a Gary Peacock joint, Shift In The Wind has Art Lande written all over it. It shows a different side of Peacock as he is taken in unforeseen directions by the grace of that delicate Lande touch. The latter’s pianism is majestic yet intimate in the opener, “So Green,” and sets the stage for an album in which he and Peacock share most of the compositional credit. The two consistently turn fleeting moments into epic sentiments, and vice versa, all the while thrown skyward by Eliot Zigmund’s hip sensibilities at the kit. With completion of these exercises, “Last First” comes as a fresh sunrise. With its solid arpeggios and bright rolls in the piano’s upper register, it teeters between reverie and jubilation, brought to fullest equilibrium in Peacock’s solo turn. The title track soars between whistles through detached mouthpieces, whispering piano, and percussion. So begins an abstract free-for-all which, like an ephemeral tornado of blown leaves, makes recognizable shapes out of stillness. This, along with “Fractions” and “Centers,” takes a divisional approach to the cumulative. “Caverns Beneath The Zoth,” on the other hand, funnels into a steady counterpoint. The trio lays the icing on the cake with “Valentine,” a precious ballad that exposes the magic of which Lande is capable at his best.

This is a vital session in the archives of everyone concerned, bringing home as it does a focused sense of craft, performance, and, above all, sensitivity. Lande, it bears repeating, dominates as much as one of his delicate sensibilities can, while Peacock carries his characteristically somber brand of exuberance to new depths.

<< John Abercrombie Quartet: Abercrombie Quartet (ECM 1164)
>> Enrico Rava Quartet <<Ah>> (ECM 1166)

Gary Peacock: December Poems (ECM 1119)

ECM 1119

Gary Peacock
December Poems

Gary Peacock double-bass
Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones
Recorded December 1977 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

From the start of Gary Peacock’s December Poems, one revels in the sound of his instrument, the buzzing, raw quality of which comes to listeners at last relatively unmitigated. After a languid intro, “Snow Dance” lays down an unsinkable bass line, over which overdubbed improvisations abound. Jan Garbarek’s reports paint “Winterlude” like the sky outside my streaked window: that is, with only the barest of contrasts separating heaven and earth. “A Northern Tale” is a strangely airy segue into the wistful intro of “December Greenwings” and Garbarek’s subsequent reappearance. His winding paths intersect beautifully with Peacock’s straight and narrow in a track that is about as upbeat as the album gets. “Flower Crystals” changes the tone considerably with some internal pianism before settling into “Celebrations.” Like the opener, this also features two basses, only this time caught in a more erratic chain of events.

As I write this, it is indeed December—New Year’s Eve to be precise—and I am on a bus bound for New York City. Behind thoughts of friends and fun (the Metropolitan Opera’s performance of Pelléas et Mélisande awaits me), I feel in the starkness of this music the deeper roots of my travel. As the sun rises somewhere behind the cloud cover, I know that its light shines within. Recorded with unsurprising clarity, the album captures every creak, tap, and involuntary hum. Like a bare tree standing in a snowy field, its branches cut a bold hand-stretch of lines across a canvas of white and gray. As with Jack DeJohnette’s Pictures, this effort offers insight into an otherwise fiery group player whose free-spiritedness is akin to that of the label on which he has found his ideal home.

<< Jan Garbarek: Places (ECM 1118)
>> Bill Connors: Of Mist And Melting (ECM 1120)

Gary Peacock: Tales Of Another (ECM 1101)

ECM 1101

Gary Peacock
Tales Of Another

Gary Peacock bass
Keith Jarrett piano
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded February 1977, Generation Sound Studios, New York
Engineer: Tony May
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The grouping on this album represents a milestone in ECM outfits, persevering to the present day as it has in the form of Keith Jarrett’s mighty standards trio. Though a far cry from the ecstatic overloads honed over years of synergy and touring, there is an almost naïve charm to this effort and the evenhanded musicianship that sustains it. Each of these six “tales” begins in loveliness. Piano and bass bring the most urgency to bear, as in the gorgeous “Vignette,” in which Peacock gets his first lilting solo, and its follow-up, “Tone Field.” Both start off slow and sure, with DeJohnette giving the barest hint of traction and Jarrett biting deeply into fractured themes. “Major Major” gives us the steady beat we crave beneath majestic chording from the piano man, who offers up a prime slab of linear sirloin. Yet the album’s juiciest sediments can be found in the massive “Trilogy” that makes up its second half. DeJohnette skirts the rims with requisite flair while Peacock slathers on a bright veneer. Jarrett grunts ecstatically with every new development, shooting fire from his fingers. Such is the energy one has come to expect from this nonpareil threesome. Jarrett cuts off our air supply before the final stretch, the hair-trigger precision and on-your-toes syncopations of which make this pensive journey more than worth taking.

Peacock’s moody compositions make for a strikingly different experience. His fingers pull with accomplished ease at the strings of his bass. DeJohnette sticks to the margins, but fills them like no one else can. Jarrett, it might be noted, is more vocal here than I’ve ever heard him. For many, this seems to be the album’s only downfall. As far as this listener is concerned, his woops, grunts, and squeals merely underscore a musician who is unafraid to let his heart sing.

<< Keith Jarrett: Sun Bear Concerts (ECM 1100)
>> Kenny Wheeler: Deer Wan (ECM 1102)