The Swallow Quintet – Into The Woodwork (2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24-bit/88,2 kHz | Time – 56:19 minutes | 1,07 GB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Master, Official Digital Download – Source: HDTracks | Artwork: Digital Booklet | © XtraWATT
Praising a previous incarnation of Steve Swallow’s quintet, The Times described the band “as near a perfect display of small-group jazz – robust yet exquisitely poised”. The description holds true for the latest edition of the bassist’s quintet and its album Into the Woodwork. Swallow leads the group – including his longtime partner in music and life, Carla Bley, on organ – in multi-hued performances of a dozen original compositions from his pen. Recorded in the south of France, the album accommodates atmospheric grace and loping grooves, wry humour and understated virtuosity.
Over a career spanning more than half a century, Steve Swallow has consistently redefined the electric bass as a jazz instrument. More importantly, he has taken any and every opportunity along the way to deepen his craft as a composer. His self-discipline in this regard has made every album seem at once a culmination and a stepping stone into greater futures. Into The Woodwork is no exception.
For this latest incarnation of his quintet, Swallow has chosen a lineup worthy of the subtlety on which these 12 original tunes nourish themselves. The tenor of reedman Chris Cheek, who made a noticeable ECM appearance as part of the Paul Motian Band on Garden of Eden, brings the smoke before the fire in “From Whom It May Concern,” a ballad that tilts its own thematic mirror toward artful reflection. Cheek also plays beautifully in “Unnatural Causes,” from the paint-by-number simplicity of which he unpacks the robustness of an unexpected spectrum. This tune is further notable for the contributions of guitarist and fellow Motian associate Steve Cardenas, whose unforced geometries settle us into the album’s intimacies by way of “Sad Old Candle.” Cardenas, in fact, proves to be the quintet’s greatest converser, whether exchanging remarkable banter with Cheek (“The Butler Did It”) or playing in duet with Swallow (“Suitable For Framing”). His lyricism pairs well, too, with the organ of Carla Bley, whose own omnipresence reveals another defining mastery in tunes like “Never Know,” “Still There,” and “Grisly Business.” The latter’s gentle carnivalesque is ideally suited to her touch at the keys.
Drummer Jorge Rossy is a constant thread to which the band looks for guidance, but especially in the more energetic turns such as “Back In Action” and “Exit Stage Left.” His understated groove actualizes Swallow’s ethos of less as more, and demonstrates that self-assured music need never be arrogant. And then there’s Swallow himself, whose first true solo doesn’t come until the album’s ninth track, “Small Comfort” fans the embers. The edge of his new custom bass sounds already finely aged over this bed of organ and cymbals, exposing a little more of his inner workings as brushed snare and tenor pull back the curtain to clarity.
In contrast to the steadied pacing of Swallow’s ECM outings, many tunes on Into The Woodwork flow into the next without break, thus keeping his atmospheric integrity in constant check. Like the title track itself, the album as a whole finds balance between the grounded and the free, always keeping one arm around the listener’s shoulder. The fact that this music doesn’t overtly challenge is a challenge in and of itself to experience its strengths as givens. Like an old friend, it may not often surprise, but its comforts are exactly where they need to be.
01 – Sad Old Candle
02 – Into The Woodwork
03 – From Whom It May Concern (For Paul Haines)
04 – Back In Action
05 – Grisly Business
06 – Unnatural Causes
07 – The Butler Did It
08 – Suitable For Framing
09 – Small Comfort
10 – Still There
11 – Never Know
12 – Exit Stage Left
Produced by Steve Swallow. Engineered by Gérard De Haro and Nicolas Baillard.
Recorded on November 15/16, 2011 and Mixed and Mastered at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines.
Steve Swallow – bass
Chris Cheek – tenor saxophone
Steve Cardenas – guitar
Carla Bley – organ
Jorge Rossy – drums