Much of Gary Peacock’s career has involved his playing bass in the setting of jazz piano trios. Some of his earliest work took place in trios led by pianists that included Paul Bley, Bill Evans, and Keith Jarrett. At the end of the last century, he was working with a trio led by pianist Marilyn Crispell; and after drummer Paul Motian died, they continued to work together as a duo. At the beginning of this month, ECM released an album of a trio that Peacock himself is now leading, whose pianist is Marc Copland, with whom he has worked since the Eighties, and drummer Joey Baron.
The title of the album is Tangents, which is also the name of the final track. “Tangents” is one of the five original compositions that Peacock has contributed to the album. The others are “Contact,” “December Greenwings,” “Tempei Tempo,” and “Rumblin’.” What is impressive is the diversity of rhetorical stances that cuts across these pieces. There is not necessarily an easily classifiable “Peacock sound” as much as a chameleon-like ability to blend into whatever contextual setting the charts establish. This is particularly evident in “Empty Forest,” which is the collaborative effort of all three members of the trio. The album also features two pieces by Baron, “Cauldron” and “In And Out,” and one by Copland, “Talkin’ Blues.”
That last piece makes it clear that this is a group that can be cheerful, just as easily as it can be intensely introspective. This should not be confused with “Talking Blues,” which basically involves reciting rhymed couplets over a simply chord progression (which has nothing to do with twelve-bar blues). Copland’s piece is neither verbal nor suggestive; but it also has its own way of breaking with twelve-bar blues tradition. Indeed, one of the interesting factors of Peacock’s bass work is his ability to break with any sense of a tonal center without leaving the listener worrying about being dragged into the world of Arnold Schoenberg. (I first became aware of this technique when listening to Peacock’s work with Crispell.)
Two “outside” composers also have tracks on this album. The greater surprise would probably be the trio playing Alex North’s theme for the film Spartacus. This could easily have descended down the primrose path to schmalz. Instead, the listener gets the sort of meditative quietude that reaches back to tracks like “Flamenco Sketches,” which Miles Davis composed for his Kind of Blue album. Indeed, the other “outside” composer is Davis himself with a performance of “Blue In Green” from that same album. For that matter, Peacock’s favorite rhetorical stance throughout this album seems to be one of an inner calm; and, considering how many advocates for agitation are currently stirring up the world, we could do with lots more of Peacock’s approach to making music!