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.
Hushed opener "Sad Old Candle" reveals the subtle beauties of this band, with Swallow and Bley joined in ensemble intimacy by saxophonist Chris Cheek, guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummer Jorge Rossy. "From Whom It May Concern" sees Cheek sing a sad-eyed melody on his saxophone, with a limpid solo from Cardenas to follow. It's Rossy to the fore in "Back in Action," with his funky solos defining the track. "Exit Stage Left" begins with the ever-distinctive fluidity of Swallow's electric bass - a sound that has propelled the veteran to the top of the critics and readers polls in DownBeat year in and year out. "Into the Woodwork" is jazz of character, with ingrained melody and warmth.
Steve Swallow has played with many of the major figures of contemporary jazz and post-bebop music, beginning in 1960 when he first met Paul and Carla Bley. Soon he was playing in the Paul Bley Trio, Jimmy Giuffre Trio and George Russell Sextet with Eric Dolphy. After playing with Gary Burton in Stan Getz's group, he joined the vibraphonist's band, playing in most of Burton's ensembles over a 20-year period. Swallow has performed on Carla Bley's recordings since 1978. His albums as a leader or co-leader have appeared on XtraWatt, WATT and ECM, and include Are We There Yet?, Damaged in Transit, Deconstructed, Real Book, Go Together, Swallow, Duets, Carla, Home and So There.
Personnel: Steve Swallow (bass), Carla Bley (organ), Chris Cheek (tenor saxophone), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Jorge Rossy (drums)
'It's consistently seductive - from the murmuring opener Sad Old Candle with its disconsolate sax-and-guitar dance, through the organ-churning swing of the title track and on to the bopping, unison sax/guitar blues of Unnatural Causes.' -- The Guardian * * * *
'Few people can mark time as beautifully as veteran bass guitarist Steve Swallow. Here, over the course of a dozen succinct originals Swallow sets out his compositional stall with a superb new group... the ever subtle Swallow quietly explores the lyrical, romantic side of post-bop.' -- The Irish Times * * * *
'One of the most acclaimed bassists of modern times...his unmistakable trademark, though, is the sound of this band - agile and glancing, with beautiful, springy rhythms. At the centre of it is the remarkable Carla Bley, tying everything together with the merest wisps of harmony on the electric organ. The whole band play with rare fluency and ease.' -- The Observer * * * *
'Cheek's soft, focused tone and uneasy lines are a delight...the dominant voice is that of organist Carla Bley. Her intriguing textures and sense of space permeate every track and emphasise the dark corners and unexpected angles of Swallow's music.' -- Financial Times * * * *
'Certainly a highpoint in Swallow's latter-day discography...an example of good humour translating into good music.' -- Jazzwise
'Swallow's stellar band address his often deceptively simple-sounding themes with wry wit, exquisitely tasteful vigour and carefully calibrated control...uniquely deft, propulsive bass playing...a delightfully unassuming but compulsively listenable display of state-of-the-art small-group jazz.'