The art of the free jazz ballad
N. Dorward | Toronto, ON Canada | 05/26/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When this recording came out in 1997 it was greeted with a lot of praise in the music press. I only belatedly got it last month; I was initially pretty disappointed with it, though I've come to appreciate it rather better since then. It is almost self-parodic in its fulfillment of the ECM aesthetic: two CDs of often ponderous & portentous but always immaculately-played & beautifully-recorded free-tempo ballads, by the cult composer/singer Annette Peacock. Crispell is best known for her combustible piano playing, which is one of the most individual developments of the Cecil Taylor line of free jazz. But there's always been something of a new-agey side to her music, too (not for nothing is one of her discs called _Gaia_); one might also more generously point to her increasingly obvious devotion to the music of Bill Evans (her earlier disc _Contrasts: Live at Yoshi's_ contains a couple Evans tunes...though she manages to mistake the structure of "Turn Out the Stars", alas). Her ballad-playing throughout her career has been typically heavily rubato, & often extravagantly rhapsodic & emotional; her rhapsodic side, though, is reigned in on _Nothing ever was, anyway_, & the tenor of the album is instead cool & understated for the most part. This is mostly sober & sombre stuff, though there's a fine humour on show in "cartoon".As the foregoing suggests, this isn't an album that greatly moves me. But it would be churlish of me to give it a low rating, given the evident devotion of all the players involved to the music, & their often excellent performances. Paul Motian in particular is a key voice on the album--he's played with Crispell before, & they seem entirely in sync here; indeed, on several tracks Peacock either lays out entirely or plays very little, foregrounding the Crispell-Motian duet.Two small notes. Annette Peacock herself guests on one track, "Dreams (If time weren't)". I think she's destined to remain a cult singer: some will find her wayward pitching as grating as fingernails on a chalkboard. That doesn't bother me unduly, but the sheer pretentiousness & awkward literariness of her lyrics do. -- Secondly: this album is issued as a double-CD but buyers should be aware that it contains only just a little more than could fit on a single disc. If the extra take of the title track that forms a coda to the 2nd disc had been omitted then it could have been a one-disc set.A worthwhile recording, though I prefer some of Crispell's warmer & more varied discs like _Santuerio_. Those who enjoy it will want to catch _Amaryllis_, a recent disc that reunites this trio to perform their own material."
Ecstatic Lyricism from a Free Jazz Wonder
Christopher Forbes | Brooklyn,, NY | 11/01/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of those quintessentially sombre ECM albums, and depending on the responses that description evokes in you, you should either rush out and get this one or avoid it like the plague. Crispell is one of the finest free players to come out of the 1980's. She first made her name playing in Anthony Braxton's marvelous 80's band, where her classical phrasing, elegant tone and uncompromisingly dissonant approach to Braxton's modernist compositions was constistently surprising. She helped to make that Braxton quartet one of the most constistently inventive ensembles Braxton put together. On her own, Crispell has retained a certain "European" coolness...almost an intellectuality along with a frenetic style derived primarily from Cecil Taylor by way of Stockhausen. But that is not really in evidence on this CD. Rather, here we find the lyrical Crispell, diving into the hauntingly beautiful ballads of Annette Peacock with love and passion. As might be suspected, she often reminds one of Paul Bley here...as Bley put his unmistakeable stamp on this music with his recordings of it in the 60's and 70's. But this is not just Bley revamped. Crispell is her own soloist. One moment she is stark and almost Feldmanesque (Morton Feldman that is) and the next moment she is rhapsodic, with a touch and harmonic sense that reveal the warmth and glow of Bill Evans. The trio on this date is excellent. Paul Motian got his start playing with Evans, and understands the piano trio perhaps better than any other free drummer with the possible exception of Barry Altshul (and Jack DeJohnette if you consider him a free drummer). He is able to suspend the time without loosing momentum, and his brush work is exquisite. Gary Peacock is one of the finest of bass players, and of course his pedigree in the music of his ex-wife is stellar. (How he ever managed to remain both the friend and collaborator of both Bley and Annette Peacock during his divorce and her subsequent marriage to Bley is beyond me...but hey! it was the 60's.)Sound, as is usual for ECM is open, spacious and atmospheric. This is great music for late nights. It has that classic three-in-the-morning feel to it. But it is not all just atmosphere. Crispell, Peacock and Motian make sure that this music retains depth of thought and feeling. Stands up there with the classic Bley trio recordings, and that's high praise indeed!"
Exciting revisiting of some well known material
Tim Young | London, England | 03/15/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Annette Peacock - where is she, why hasn't she recorded for such a long time? A phenomenally talented artist, Peacock wrote - and sang - some of the best known and loved material in the free repertoire. Anyone well acquainted with the recordings of Paul Bley, Gary Peacock inter alia will recognise many themes featured on this album. The playing is exemplary - Crispell's faithful interpretations are well supported by Gary Peacock and Paul Motian. Many coming to this recording afresh will find it somewhat astringent - not immediately lovable - but do please make an effort. The moving ballad "Both" is a good place to start. Certainly to my delight, Annette herself sings on "Dreams" - a beautiful voice. I felt twenty five years fall away in a moment. I just wish ECM could persuade Ms Peacock to record an entirely sung album of her material."