on December 5, 1998
Crispell's interpretations of the music of Annette Peacock are not for everyone. Most people have never heard of Peacock and have nothing to compare it to. Peacock's songs - all written, apparently, during the 60's are bitter-sweet, poingant in the extreme. Crispell brings her enormous power as a classically trained pianist to the interpretation of such little masterpieces as "Both" , "touching" and "open, to love". Inevitably the music must be compared to the definitive interpretations of the same music by Paul Bley's trio albums from the 60's and 70's. Crispell's approach is somewhat more lyrical if less dramatic. It is obvious that her drummer, Paul Motion, has listened to the nervous probing drumming of Barry Altschul who worked on Bley's albums. If you like this album, do explore Bley's work, especially early albums like "Ramblin'" and "open, to love". His later album, "Annette", likewise dedicated to Peacock's music, is to my mind, a little weak.
on May 25, 2001
When this recording came out in 1997 it was greeted with a lot of praise in the music press. I only belatedly got it last month; I was initially pretty disappointed with it, though I've come to appreciate it rather better since then. It is almost self-parodic in its fulfillment of the ECM aesthetic: two CDs of often ponderous & portentous but always immaculately-played & beautifully-recorded free-tempo ballads, by the cult composer/singer Annette Peacock. Crispell is best known for her combustible piano playing, which is one of the most individual developments of the Cecil Taylor line of free jazz. But there's always been something of a new-agey side to her music, too (not for nothing is one of her discs called _Gaia_); one might also more generously point to her increasingly obvious devotion to the music of Bill Evans (her earlier disc _Contrasts: Live at Yoshi's_ contains a couple Evans tunes...though she manages to mistake the structure of "Turn Out the Stars", alas). Her ballad-playing throughout her career has been typically heavily rubato, & often extravagantly rhapsodic & emotional; her rhapsodic side, though, is reigned in on _Nothing ever was, anyway_, & the tenor of the album is instead cool & understated for the most part. This is mostly sober & sombre stuff, though there's a fine humour on show in "cartoon".
As the foregoing suggests, this isn't an album that greatly moves me. But it would be churlish of me to give it a low rating, given the evident devotion of all the players involved to the music, & their often excellent performances. Paul Motian in particular is a key voice on the album--he's played with Crispell before, & they seem entirely in sync here; indeed, on several tracks Peacock either lays out entirely or plays very little, foregrounding the Crispell-Motian duet.
Two small notes. Annette Peacock herself guests on one track, "Dreams (If time weren't)". I think she's destined to remain a cult singer: some will find her wayward pitching as grating as fingernails on a chalkboard. That doesn't bother me unduly, but the sheer pretentiousness & awkward literariness of her lyrics do. -- Secondly: this album is issued as a double-CD but buyers should be aware that it contains only just a little more than could fit on a single disc. If the extra take of the title track that forms a coda to the 2nd disc had been omitted then it could have been a one-disc set.
A worthwhile recording, though I prefer some of Crispell's warmer & more varied discs like _Santuerio_. Those who enjoy it will want to catch _Amaryllis_, a recent disc that reunites this trio to perform their own material.
on November 1, 2002
This is one of those quintessentially sombre ECM albums, and depending on the responses that description evokes in you, you should either rush out and get this one or avoid it like the plague. Crispell is one of the finest free players to come out of the 1980's. She first made her name playing in Anthony Braxton's marvelous 80's band, where her classical phrasing, elegant tone and uncompromisingly dissonant approach to Braxton's modernist compositions was constistently surprising. She helped to make that Braxton quartet one of the most constistently inventive ensembles Braxton put together.
On her own, Crispell has retained a certain "European" coolness...almost an intellectuality along with a frenetic style derived primarily from Cecil Taylor by way of Stockhausen. But that is not really in evidence on this CD. Rather, here we find the lyrical Crispell, diving into the hauntingly beautiful ballads of Annette Peacock with love and passion. As might be suspected, she often reminds one of Paul Bley here...as Bley put his unmistakeable stamp on this music with his recordings of it in the 60's and 70's. But this is not just Bley revamped. Crispell is her own soloist. One moment she is stark and almost Feldmanesque (Morton Feldman that is) and the next moment she is rhapsodic, with a touch and harmonic sense that reveal the warmth and glow of Bill Evans.
The trio on this date is excellent. Paul Motian got his start playing with Evans, and understands the piano trio perhaps better than any other free drummer with the possible exception of Barry Altshul (and Jack DeJohnette if you consider him a free drummer). He is able to suspend the time without loosing momentum, and his brush work is exquisite. Gary Peacock is one of the finest of bass players, and of course his pedigree in the music of his ex-wife is stellar. (How he ever managed to remain both the friend and collaborator of both Bley and Annette Peacock during his divorce and her subsequent marriage to Bley is beyond me...but hey! it was the 60's.)Sound, as is usual for ECM is open, spacious and atmospheric.
This is great music for late nights. It has that classic three-in-the-morning feel to it. But it is not all just atmosphere. Crispell, Peacock and Motian make sure that this music retains depth of thought and feeling. Stands up there with the classic Bley trio recordings, and that's high praise indeed!
on March 22, 2005
There can be no doubt as to the beauty of this album, no matter what anyone thinks. Marilyn Crispell's first release on ECM, from 1997, reveals the stunning lyrical depth of which this free-improvisation-goddess is capable. But of course, she is but a part of the whole -- Paul Motian and Gary Peacock are the likewise essential to this immaculate album. The music performed is that of Annette Peacock, an influential and passionate artist of the avant-garde. One thing that makes this album remarkable is when you put in perspective the perceived natures of both Crispell and A. Peacock. Before this, Crispell specialized mainly in searing, atonal improvisation. But Annette Peacock's music is mysterious and stark, more "minimal" than "maximal". As unlikely as it might be, this album is one of the most heartstoppingly beautiful things ever created by mankind. Masterly in all respects, this is a gripping, quiet, beautiful work of art. A. Peacock herself appears on the album as guest for vocals on "Dreams (if time weren't)" -- her first recorded performance in 12-years. Otherwise, Crispell plays the adapted vocal lines with rapturous rhythmic accompaniment from Motian and Peacock.
Perhaps at this point, the overuse of the word "beautiful" in ANOTHER review for an ECM album might demand justification. But really, what else does one say? ECM simply has _that many_, uh, beautiful albums. And that "ECM sound" is not beautiful in any manner as pedestrian or superficial as that which aspires directly and intently for beauty (music which often feels emotionally empty and nonintuitive). Instead, one can only explain it verbally with a hollow truism: it is beautiful because it is beautiful. but if you know what I mean, then you _know_ what i mean. Not to mention that virtually all ECM releases have superlative sound production. More labels should be as good as ECM.
anyway, you must hear this album for your own sake. You are simply missing some of the most gorgeous music ever if you never hear it. And hearing it sooner is always better than hearing it later.
on July 6, 2009
This two-CD set, which sells for the price of one, answers that burning question, "What if Anton Webern had started a jazz trio?" Well, that's sort of what "Nothing ever was, anyway" sounds like, anyway. The musical texture is generally quite wispy, with Marilyn Crispell's piano often playing a single note at a time, supported with spare intensity by Gary Peacock's bass and the drums of Paul Motian. The music does not so much flow as probe, but move forward it does--slowly, probingly, inevitably along. This is not music that I can easily recommend to everyone, but to those with ears to hear (those who find the music of Webern and Berg bracing and stimulating from time to time) will find it bracing and stimulating.
on March 15, 2000
Annette Peacock - where is she, why hasn't she recorded for such a long time? A phenomenally talented artist, Peacock wrote - and sang - some of the best known and loved material in the free repertoire. Anyone well acquainted with the recordings of Paul Bley, Gary Peacock inter alia will recognise many themes featured on this album. The playing is exemplary - Crispell's faithful interpretations are well supported by Gary Peacock and Paul Motian. Many coming to this recording afresh will find it somewhat astringent - not immediately lovable - but do please make an effort. The moving ballad "Both" is a good place to start. Certainly to my delight, Annette herself sings on "Dreams" - a beautiful voice. I felt twenty five years fall away in a moment. I just wish ECM could persuade Ms Peacock to record an entirely sung album of her material.