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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Gary Peacock Tribute

Bassist Gary Peacock passed away earlier this month, leaving behind a vast and varied discography. The Free Jazz Blog pays tribute to the great bassist with a selective and subjective look back on his some of the recordings that made their impressions personally and musically.

Albert Ayler Trio - Spiritual Unity (ESP-Disk, 1965)

By Nick Metzger

This album was my introduction to Gary Peacock’s playing and is among my (and countless others) all-time favorites. Of course, the thing that struck me on first listen was Ayler's playing, but much of what makes it work is in how the rhythm section reacted to it, and to each other. Peacock offers impudent and angular lines that complement the metallic spray of Murray's continual torrent and an unsteady, visceral support for Ayler's ecstatic manifestations as they expounded a new way forward. That Peacock played on this album in the same year he had a stint in Mile Davis’ quintet speaks to the instinctive plasticity at the bedrock of his musical concept as well as to the broad-mindedness of his nature. His playing always feels as though it might unravel at any moment, building up tension, tumbling, but always seemingly where it needed to be to buttress the strange and beautiful floodgates of expression that commenced on that July day in 1964. 


Lowell Davidson Trio - Lowell Davidson Trio (ESP, 1965)

By Martin Schray

Gary Peacock’s work with pianist Lowell Davidson and drummer Milford Graves was very different from what he did later with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. From today’s point of view it seems almost unbelievable that this album has remained Davidson’s only one (with the exception of a 1988 session with Richard Poole, which is available only digitally). From the first notes of the opening track “L“ you immediately realise that this is completely different from the trios of Bill Evans or Ahmad Jamal. Davidson, who has composed all the music, uses space and timbre in a singular way, his unheard-of, sudden changes of direction in terms of harmony and melody are especially striking. The same goes for Peacock, whose style is much rougher than later on, although there’s an inkling in “Stately 1“, especially at the beginning, that his playing has also a penchant for beauty and expanse. Even if Peacock almost has to fight against the percussive rumbling of his bandmates, he suddenly rises up from a virtual muffled silence for a solo passage. It’s like an echo of a forgotten pulse. In the other longer composition, “Ad Hoc“, the piano rushes recklessly and spreads into the universe, while Peacock contrasts this with a harsh solo. Surprisingly, even the sound of Keith Jarrett's trio is anticipated here and there - at least in the melodic moments.

Lowell Davidson Trio was included in The Wire’s “100 Records That Set The World On Fire (While No One Was Listening)“ list - when they expanded it with 30 additional albums. It was hardly known until 1988, when it was re-released as a CD. And even then it remained relatively obscure. For those who don’t know it yet, now's the time to discover.

Gary Peacock — Voices (CBS/Sony, 1971)

By Colin Green

Peacock shared a long friendship with pianist Masabumi Kikuchi with whom he collaborated on many occasions over his distinguished career. They played on several albums during his years in Japan, including Peacock’s debut as a leader—Eastwind (CBS/Sony, 1970)—also featuring drummer Hiroshi Murakami. On this session the same trio is joined by Masahiko Togashi on percussion (he and Murakami each sit out one number). The album consists entirely of compositions by Peacock, including the first appearance of two of his most memorable that were to be reinterpreted on later recordings.

This sometimes deeply reflective music suggests an absorption of Japanese culture, not just in the buzzing bass strings and pentatonic allusions of the opening ‘Ishi’, but also in Peacock’s use of a dynamic space where each note is weighed and phrase carefully articulated. There’s an architectural solidity which remained a core feature of his playing and provided the backbone for every ensemble in which he performed. Here, as on the brooding ‘Voice from the Past’, he is complimented perfectly by Kikuchi’s ink-wash shadings and the illusive way the pianist draws out melodies, half-veiled and half-revealed, set against Togashi’s filigree percussive curtain. ‘Requiem’ is a gentle lullaby, picked out by piano and bass over Murakami’s dusky brushwork. The album closes with the animated ‘Ae.Ay’, driven by propulsive bass and two distinct styles of drumming, jazz-inflected and indigenous, which eventually dissipate into a colourful free exchange with electric piano.

Peacock was to record further with Kikuchi, including six albums as the trio Tethered Moon with Paul Motian on drums, a venture that covered music by Hendrix, Kurt Weill, the songs of Édith Piaf, and adaptations from Puccini’s Tosca (discussed by Lee below). Even within his favoured format of the piano trio Peacock was a musician sensitive to many different voices. 

Ralph Towner - City of Eyes (ECM, 1989)

Ralph Towner's City of Eyes features the guitarist playing solo on several of tracks, and then with varying numbers of collaborators. It may have made more sense to recall Towner and Peacock's later duo albums on ECM in the 1990s, but this recording from 1989 has something special about it. In addition to working with Peacock, the album also features the guitarist's reunion with Oregon collaborator oboeist Paul McCandless, as well as trumpeter Markus Stockhausen and drummer Jerry Granelli. The album itself contains a wide range of styles and sometimes late 80's production values lend a certain timeliness to the album (i.e. 'Cascades'). However, Peacock's bass playing is as expansive and on close listen, quite riveting. The ballad 'Far Cry' contains a lovely solo that erupts from a low pedal tone into a tense melody that seems to slip a little out of 'tune', giving the gentle song some edge.  'Sustained Release' is an uptempo track that features Towner and Peacock in an intense dialog over Granelli's  electronic percussion. Finally, 'Les Douzilles' is a passionate tune, a true gem, driven by Towner's blue-flame energy, but in this case, more importantly, featuring Peacock's swift tandem lines and delicious melodic timing. 

Paul Bley & Gary Peacock — Partners (Owl Records, 1991)

By Colin Green

Paul Bley and Peacock had a lengthy and fruitful relationship, beginning with their early days in New York where they were at the centre of the “New Thing”, up to their final recordings with Paul Motian: Not Two, Not One (ECM, 1999) and When Will The Blues Leave (ECM, 2019). Described by Bley as “one of those rare players you could always count on as playing better than you”, rather than any of their trio recordings I’ve gone for this duo album set down in 1989 which seems to capture their special rapport. Like the subsequent Mindset (Soul Note, 1997) they play together and alone, and as pointed out by Francis Marmade in the liner notes this is music borne out of reciprocal listening and a respect for silence. A duo with the pair locked in tandem leads to ruminative solos which in turn are precursors to a duet of intimate exchanges, followed by further individual studies, an alternating pattern of contrast and balance repeated at different levels across the album.

Both are supremely melodic musicians, with a poetic understanding of how to work tunes, many of which give the impression of having been invented on the spot, often spawned from a simple figure, scale or combination of chords, true instant composing. When it came to playing free Peacock saw no meaningful distinction between composed and improvised material—it was more a state of mind than a method—and I suspect Bley felt the same. There’s an upbeat, homespun quality to the proceedings, drawing heavily on vernacular roots, and celebratory rather than melancholy (for that, look elsewhere in their catalogues).

Peacock had a way of combining a resonant, muscular tone with a fluid yet very precise diction, heard to good effect in the opening duo, ‘Again Anew’, that springs out of Bley’s deceptively simple but beautifully elaborated theme. After waiting to hear what his colleague has to say, ‘Hand in Hand’ display’s Peacock’s ability to weave a counter melody directly into the fabric of the music, always telling never ostentatious. Other highlights include an animated take on Ornette’s ‘Latin Genetics’, sprays of glittering bass harmonics (‘Gently, Gently’) and the miniature piano suite ‘Afternoon of a Dawn’, blues drenched with maybe a hint of Debussy in Bley’s arpeggios and subtle shifts in register, illuminated by a lovely sounding Steinway. The closing duo is ‘No Pun Intended’, a flickering dialogue between rattling bass and muted piano strings.

Gary Peacock and Bill Frisell - Just So Happens (Postcard Records, 1994)

I picked this album up as I was getting into Bill Frisell's guitar playing, so it must have been pretty much when the CD came out. I didn't really like it at the time, and put it back in the collection to age. And age it did, through my many purges of the collection (remember when you could sell back CDs for more than 25 cents?) and many moves. Years later, after a rediscovery listening, I realised that it was quite an intriguing recording with basically the ingredients for Frisell's next n recordings. There is the wiggly electronics, the spartan free playing, and the reverent reworking of American folk tunes. It is the latter that shows off the beauty of Peacock's bass playing.  

'Home on the Range, No. 1' and "Home on the Range, No. 2" are both attention grabbing. Of course, presenting a beloved melody is an obvious hook, but it's also the contrasting nature of the playing that is captivating. On No. 1, Peacock is all over the range. He shadows, he counter punches, he stretches melodic lines into light dissonance, and is all motion in contrast to Frisell's languid lines. Peacock kicks off No. 2 with a solo passage. Hints of the melody, shapes of the chords are hinted at, but it's a rather free moving run, until after a minute and a half Frisell comes in with the chord-melody. However, this is Peacock's take - he even gets a little rowdy at the 3:30 mark. This track is followed by a short improvised piece 'Through a Skylight' which is sort of refracted version of the previous tune, driven by Peacock's insistent bass, until Frisell's guitar explodes in a fractal of sounds.  However it's "Red River Valley" that really stands out. Peacock performs the well-worn tune unaccompanied. Glissandos between straight melodic phrases introduce implied counter melodies, and deep rumbles add heft and as many overtones as you can bear. A little latter, the duo slices open the standard 'Good Morning Heartache'. The two run in many directions - Peacock placing lovely fills between Frisell's well-planned plucks.   

Keith Jarrett - At The Blue Note (The Complete Recordings) (ECM, 1995)

By Martin Schray

Gary Peacock was famous for his work in piano trios, and the one with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette was simply outstanding. The group had already recorded eight albums with standards, when they performed three evenings at the New York jazz club Blue Note in June 1994. Producer Manfred Eicher decided to record the performances for a unique sound document from the first to the last note: on the six CDs that were produced in the process, the trio proved not only their own versatility, they also revealed the possibilities that these jazz standards offer. The repertoire included 32 different Broadway, Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley pieces, jazz ballads, bebop and swing numbers, as well as seven original compositions by Jarrett, some of which were interspersed with the standards (for example the Charlie Parker number “Partners“). What Jarrett had previously celebrated in his legendary solo performances, he succeeded in doing here in collaboration with Peacock and DeJohnette. The improvisations, such as “Autumn Leaves“, turn into epic monumental pieces of almost half an hour’s length, revealing the trio’s full potential, its irrepressible wealth of ideas. The fact that this was possible was largely due to Gary Peacock. The way he slowly sneaks into “Desert Sun“ before his bass starts to roll after two minutes gives the piece the irresistible knock-on effect that turns it into a vortex. Peacock makes every new note sound like a discovery. There’s no question: three masters are at work here. Playing jazz standards was considered disreputable even for many jazz fans. This band freed it from boredom. In their live gigs Gary Peacock was standing in the middle of the bandstand and this was not only meaningful because most trios of this kind perform like this. This arrangement made sense when Keith Jarrett stripped down the musical framework of a composition in such a way that only a hunch remained: Then Peacock’s bass used this open space, created contexts one would never have thought of, became bold, adventurous and free without losing its pulse for even a moment. He dances with his fellow musicians, for example in “You Don’t Know What Love Is/Muezzin“. Or Peacock reduces his playing to very few notes, which he sets very precisely, like in the medley of “I Fall In Love Too Easily“ and “The Fire Within“. Every note is an anchor, a rescue station.

At the Blue Note - The Complete Recordings captures a unique moment in jazz history. One of the best bands at the zenith of its career. Content and creativity are preferred to habit and mechanical patterns, surprise to routine virtuosity. The recording proves how you can say more with less. It’s a mystery why this album trades under Keith Jarrett instead of Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette - like so many others. Without Gary Peacock the music of this band would not have been possible. These six CDs are among my all time favorites, few albums have I heard so often. A masterpiece.

Tethered Moon: Gary Peacock & Masabumi Kikuchi & Paul Motian

Play Kurt Weill (1995)
Plays Jimi Hendrix+ (1998)
Chansons d’Édith Piaf (1999)
Experiencing Tosca (2004)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Gary Peacock always seems comfortably at home in piano trios, to the extent that piano trio denotes a lineup more than a hierarchy of leadership. In the case of Tethered Moon, the collaborative trio with Masabumi Kikuchi and Paul Motian, there’s more than the usual dynamic improvisation, the three generated a complete universe unto themselves. Half of their discography, however, was given over to tributes. Tethered Moon, as a unit, wasn’t content with merely playing the hits, so to speak. Over the course of nine years, they bridged so-called high and low: opera, cabaret, and classic rock. Plays Jimi Hendrix+ in particular takes the guitarist’s work and completely transforms it. The thing to note here is there’s no preciousness, the group takes Hendrix as seriously as they do Puccini, Piaf as lightly as they do Weill. Peacock, Kikuchi, and Motian take each song as a jumping off point, turning songs inside-out, bringing lightness and humor to what, in other hands, might be fairly dry, humdrum homage. All this music is putty in their hands, and Peacock exemplified the openness and delight with which Tethered Moon approached all things. Peacock stood out as a bassist for his technical skills, surely, but it’s albums like these that really tell the story of his personality, his wit, and seemingly bottomless love of music.

Amaryllis - Marilyn Crispell / Gary Peacock / Paul Motian (ECM, 2001)

By Stephen Griffith

Before she recorded for ECM, Marilyn Crispell had been interested in exploring a more lyrical side of her musical personality instead of the energy laden approach that had predominated previously. According to Crispell's telling in this video, a friendship with Annette Peacock arose in Woodstock and Marilyn was interested in doing a project of her work, for which Annette immediately suggested Gary as an accompanist. Crispell added Paul Motian to form a piano trio, asked Annette to conduct since she was very particular about the dynamics of sections of her compositions, and the project was immediately accepted by Manfred Eicher. The resulting 2 disc set, Nothing Ever Was, Anyway. Music of Annette Peacock was a critical success featured on many best of lists.

But the recording didn't work for me as much as it did others. I needed more Crispell playing Crispell. So the trio reconvened in Oslo with compositions from each of the members, along with Manfred’s suggestion that they play free ballads. Surprisingly to me, this was a new concept for Crispell and in her words “a light went on” regarding how spontaneous reactions could produce a composed sounding result. Gary Peacock usually initiated things with a rich bass figure for which the others blended in and built something new, including the Amaryllis title cut. Placement of music is important both to Manfred and Crispell, and Peacock’s compositions set the tone with “Voice From The Past”, “Requiem” and “December Greenwings” interspersed in the first six cuts. Plus Peacock’s previous backing of Keith Jarrett’s gospel influenced improvisations was brought to play in Mitchell Weiss’s “Prayer”, which Crispell played in subsequent concert appearances. Peacock participated in the realization of a new facet of Marilyn Crispell’s music persona. Their relationship continued through subsequent releases, notably the duet recording Azure providing a listener friendly showcase for Gary's instrumental prowess and sensitivity. But after almost 20 years Amaryllis still draws me back.

Gary Peacock - Now This (ECM, 2015)

By Antonio Poscic

Looking back, Now This marked a significant milestone in the career of Gary Peacock. Recorded with his new but familiar collaborators, pianist Marc Copland and drummer Joey Baron, the album was released on his 80th birthday in 2015, right on the tail of Keith Jarrett’s disbandment of the cult Standards Trio. Featuring both reworkings of Peacock’s older compositions and fresh pieces, the music feels like acceptance—a soft transition and retrospection between phases of life, but fully embracing of the present. “He talked often of being in the moment, unconcerned with anything beyond what was right in front of him,” Copland muses in a recent tribute to his friend and colleague, while explaining the nature of the album’s title.

From the first noir moment of the opening “Gaia,” sprinkled with Copland’s pointillist touches, to the jubilant rendition of “Requiem” that closes proceedings on a high, Now This is predominantly sparse and solitary, inhabited by a sense of brooding lyricism anchored in somber bass tones. Throughout, both Baron’s and Copland’s playing remains subtle, often gently percussive. Their approach creates pockets of negative space for Peacock to sketch in tactile melodies with his double bass’s upper registers, gifting a pensive and introspective atmosphere to the music.

The record’s soft-spoken personality then lends further gravitas to those rare passages in which Peacock settles back into lower registers and locks into circular, ascending rhythms, releasing fleeting but freer, dissonant interplays between Copland’s scattered phrases and Baron’s bolder, signature rolls, which are so deeply felt on his collaborations with John Zorn. These segments complete and add just a bit of flourish to what is already a very pretty, silently dramatic album. A soundtrack for snowy winter days.

Gary Peacock Trio - Tangents (ECM, 2017)

By Martin Schray

When Gary Peacock recorded Tangents he was 82 years old and no longer had to prove himself to anyone. He had been in the business for 60 years and he was the formative bass player when it came to piano trios. Since 1983 he played together with Jack DeJohnette in Keith Jarrett’s Standard Trio, before that he played in the trios of Bill Evans, Paul Bley and Lowell Davidson, but also with Masahiko Satoh / Masahiko Togashi and Marylin Crispell / Paul Motian. Without any doubt he was one of the bassists who gave the instrument a new role as an independent melodic voice, mainly because he had always been a master of abstraction. And you can hear this on Tangents, the last album of his own trio with Marc Copland (piano) and Joey Baron (drums). Peacock seems to bring together all the experiences from the other trios here, as if he were taking musical stock. On the one hand he presents his own compositions like the dreamy “December Greenwings“ or those of his bandmates like the atonal “Cauldron“ (by Joey Baron) and on the other hand they include two famous standards: Besides the classic “Blue In Green“ by Miles Davis there’s also the melodic “Spartacus“ by Alex North, both clearly refer to Peacock’s work with Jarrett. When you think of typical (conservative) piano trio music this might be the sound you have in mind.

However, Peacock is much more present on this album than in his trios with the other pianists, one would almost be inclined to speak of a bass trio. This becomes clear right at the beginning because “Contact“, the opener, begins with a parading bass solo before Copland and Baron join in. Everything revolves around Peacock’s flowing bass lines, piano and drums only add single dots. “December Greenwings“ is particularly interesting on this album, as Peacock has recorded it several times before: in 1978 with Jan Garbarek for December Poems and then again in 2000 with Marilyn Crispell and Paul Motian for Amaryllis. Arranged differently and recorded with other musicians the piece shows a completely different quality, each recording takes a new look at the same territory. The title track concludes the album, and again Peacock reflects Marc Copland’s crystalline chords with very sparing, minimalist tones, short riffs and elegant runs. The gloomy mood and the frayed harmonies are rather reminiscent of Paul Bley than Keith Jarrett, whereby the music - quite typical for an ECM recording - remains very open and gets room to breathe.



It's always nice to share personal thoughts about the music, the people that make it and how it, many times, drastically alters our lifes.Well done to all of you guys.
I could say a lot about jazz (or non-), free, improv, blah-blah albums but if there's one that blew my mind forever, then it must be Spiritual Unity.

joe.po said...

... oh, me too. Spiritual Unity is a mindbreaker and I am quite astonished that it appears at the first place. Thanks for the good job at all, Nick.

Colin Green said...

The albums are listed chronologically, not in any kind of order of merit.

Keith said...

Fantastic feature! Over the past couple of weeks, I've taken the opportunity to listen to more Gary Peacock, who I was only truly familiar with through the lenses of Annette Peacock compositions and Ayler (especially Spirits Rejoice!). My favorite discovery is his rich history with a cadre of Japanese venerables. Whereas Peacock often draws associations with Ayler, Bley, Jarrett, Crispell, and Motian, there are also lasting relationships with Masabumi Kikuchi, Masahiko Satoh, Masahiko Togashi, and Hiroshi Murakami. The Tethered Moon ensemble and Voices covered here feature some of those relationships. Perhaps the find I found most interest in was the Wave ensemble, with Togashi and Satoh; III was easy to find, but I'm still waiting on imports of I and II, snippets of which have led me to believe these are amazing records. Some other standouts I've heard include Satoh's Samadhi, Kikuchi's But Not For Me, and Yamamoto's Silver World and Mugenkai. These records are still inside-outside, but the particular energy the Japanese musicians bring allow Peacock to flex his free-flowing lyricism and small forays into extended technique; to me, they are certainly more lively than many of the directions he was taking with his American counterparts beginning in the '80s. A route to consider, though just one among many the listener can take when digging through Peacock's considerable work. Another I'll have to take is listening to each of these featured records I haven't listened to yet; many thanks in sharing, y'all.

Nick Ostrum said...

Wow. This series is a real feat, and a fitting tribute. I had a similar experience as Paul when I first heard Just So Happens. Simply put, I had no idea how to approach it or what to make of it. After listening to some of his work with ECM and Ayler (I actually fell for the Copenhagen Tapes before Spiritual Unity), however, I started to gain an appreciation for Peacock's vision and range. Another true bass titan lost this year.

ijb said...

Pretty interesting that at least one of these texts is mostly a partial transcript of this interview/short film with Marilyn Crispell: – without mentioning the source at all. Nice to see that work has had some influence on this blog (among others), but it would be even more decent to acknowledge that.

The Crispell shortfilm is part of a 51-episode series about ECM Records, each one focusing on a different album and/or artist/musician, and there's also an episode with Gary Peacock, based on the "Now This" album: – with many other episodes about Frisell, Wadada Leo Smith, David Torn, Swallow/Bley etc