Annette Peacock has been a defining influence on the music of ECM for many years, but An Acrobat's Heart is the first album she has made for the label as a leader. Here Peacock turns away from her previous work with electronic elements to produce a spare, ethereal set of compositions for voice, piano, and strings echoing the style of her early '80s album Skyskating. An Acrobat's Heart also marks the first time that Peacock has composed for strings, and the Cikada String Quartet's seamless accompaniment almost breathes with her. Silence and minimalism play major roles in this work, and both Peacock's voice and the accompanying instrumentation seem to bloom up from the quiet background and then dissipate again as quickly they appeared. The tones are clear and precise, but occasionally veer into dissonance as Peacock's wistful lyrics are fleshed out into holograms of sound, transparent but fully realized. Elements of jazz, blues, and torch songs ebb and flow throughout the album, adding to the nostalgic themes of romance and longing embodied by the lyrics. While seeming deeply personal, the lyrics are the weakest element of An Acrobat's Heart, lacking in the kind of poetic imagery and rhythm that would place them on a par with the quality of the surrounding music. Overall, however, this album proves that after over three decades as a performer, Annette Peacock still has the skill to compose and execute truly beautiful music.
This trio date is dedicated to the music of Annette Peacock, former wife of both pianist Paul Bley and bassist Gary Peacock. While Bley is the undisputed leader on this date (as he has recorded many of these pieces before), it is flügelhorn and trumpet player Franz Koglmann who arranged them in such an exquisite manner. The majority of the pieces included here were originally composed as songs. They were vehicles for expressing the interior, haunted world that Ms. Peacock inhabits and featured her lilting, edgy voice, which slips and slithers through her deceptively simple melodies before erupting into a shriek of ecstasy or pain.
The gathering of this trio in February of 2000 guaranteed little except that they had demonstrated ably – on Nothing Ever Was Anyway: The Music of Annette Peacock – the ability to play together almost symbiotically. This follow-up attempts to extend the trio's reach across Peacock's music and into the terrain of the trio as an entity in and of itself. That said, not all the pieces here are new; in fact, some of them are decades old – Marilyn Crispell's "Rounds" is from 1981, Gary Peacock's "Voices of the Past" and "December Greenwings" are both from the early '80s, and Paul Motian's "Conception Vessel/Circle Dance" is from the early '70s. The trio brings to these vintage pieces not only new eyes, but the freshness of this relationship and the willingness to reinvent them.
To coincide with the electronica revolution of the late '90s, Bill Laswell remixed a number of Bob Marley records as ambient dub for the Dreams of Freedom: Ambient Translations of Bob Marley in Dub album. If these songs were remixed by any other producer, the results could have been disastrous, but Laswell is one of the masters of intellectual dub – he knows what to take out and what to add, creating a spacious, cavernous mix that is provocative without being extreme. Some longtime Marley fans will balk at the very idea of the album, but the results are undeniably impressive, even if it's a little too restrained and cerebral to qualify as first-rate ambient dub for clubs.