Annette Peacock has been a defining influence on the music of ECM for many years, but An Acrobat's Heart is the first album she has made for the label as a leader. Here Peacock turns away from her previous work with electronic elements to produce a spare, ethereal set of compositions for voice, piano, and strings echoing the style of her early '80s album Skyskating. An Acrobat's Heart also marks the first time that Peacock has composed for strings, and the Cikada String Quartet's seamless accompaniment almost breathes with her. Silence and minimalism play major roles in this work, and both Peacock's voice and the accompanying instrumentation seem to bloom up from the quiet background and then dissipate again as quickly they appeared. The tones are clear and precise, but occasionally veer into dissonance as Peacock's wistful lyrics are fleshed out into holograms of sound, transparent but fully realized. Elements of jazz, blues, and torch songs ebb and flow throughout the album, adding to the nostalgic themes of romance and longing embodied by the lyrics. While seeming deeply personal, the lyrics are the weakest element of An Acrobat's Heart, lacking in the kind of poetic imagery and rhythm that would place them on a par with the quality of the surrounding music. Overall, however, this album proves that after over three decades as a performer, Annette Peacock still has the skill to compose and execute truly beautiful music.
This trio date is dedicated to the music of Annette Peacock, former wife of both pianist Paul Bley and bassist Gary Peacock. While Bley is the undisputed leader on this date (as he has recorded many of these pieces before), it is flügelhorn and trumpet player Franz Koglmann who arranged them in such an exquisite manner. The majority of the pieces included here were originally composed as songs. They were vehicles for expressing the interior, haunted world that Ms. Peacock inhabits and featured her lilting, edgy voice, which slips and slithers through her deceptively simple melodies before erupting into a shriek of ecstasy or pain.
The gathering of this trio in February of 2000 guaranteed little except that they had demonstrated ably – on Nothing Ever Was Anyway: The Music of Annette Peacock – the ability to play together almost symbiotically. This follow-up attempts to extend the trio's reach across Peacock's music and into the terrain of the trio as an entity in and of itself. That said, not all the pieces here are new; in fact, some of them are decades old – Marilyn Crispell's "Rounds" is from 1981, Gary Peacock's "Voices of the Past" and "December Greenwings" are both from the early '80s, and Paul Motian's "Conception Vessel/Circle Dance" is from the early '70s. The trio brings to these vintage pieces not only new eyes, but the freshness of this relationship and the willingness to reinvent them.
The second ESP issue from the Paul Bley Trio is a contrast as dramatic as rain against sunshine. The earlier album, Barrage, recorded in October of 1964, was full of harsh, diffident extrapolations of sound and fury, perhaps because of its sidemen; Marshall Allen and Dewey Johnson on saxophone and trumpet, respectively, were on loan from Sun Ra and joined Eddie Gomez and Milford Graves. Indeed, the music there felt like one long struggle to survive. On this date, recorded over a year later and released in 1966, Bley's sidemen are two more like-minded experimentalists, drummer Barry Altschul and bassist Steve Swallow.
Wolfgang Muthspiel is an Austrian guitarist, composer, and founder/owner of Material Records. His intuitive, probing style has made him a celebrated, in-demand sideman since the 1980s. He has worked with Gary Burton, Youssou N’Dour, Gary Peacock, Dave Liebman, Paul Motian, and dozens more.