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.
Although one often thinks of Jaco Pastorius' first solo album as being 1976's Jaco on Epic, producer/keyboardist Paul Bley actually gave Pastorius his first chance to lead a recording two years earlier. Coincidentally titled Jaco, this spontaneous set (which has been reissued on CD) is also significant for being among guitarist Pat Metheny's first recordings; completing the quartet are Bley on electric piano and drummer Bruce Ditmas. The music consists of three songs by Bley, five from Carla Bley, and "Blood" by Annette Peacock. Pastorius sounds quite powerful, but Metheny's tone is kind of bizarre, very distorted and not at all distinctive at this point.
Pianist Paul Bley was touring Scandinavia with a quartet made up of longtime associate Gary Peacock on bass and two brilliant British musicians, drummer Tony Oxley and John Surman on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, when they made this Oslo recording in 1991. Rather than a conventionally organized quartet session, the CD consists of seven largely improvised solos, three duets, and two tracks–the collectively improvised "Interface" and Surman's "Article Four"–with the full quartet. Even more unusual is the frequent emphasis on bass frequencies and slow, even solemn, tempos. Only extraordinary musicians could keep such a format interesting, and these four do, exploring room resonance with almost ceremonial levels of concentration.