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.