Steve Swallow Damaged In Transit Review

Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Bassist Swallow's new trio, caught live in France with a set of new compositions.

Peter Marsh 2003

An innovator on the bass guitar, a gifted composer, producer and bandleader, Steve Swallow's maintained a low key, yet consistently engaging presence in jazz over the last forty years or so.

Swallow describes the music on this record as resulting from a compositional challenge he'd set himself. His aim was to write relying more on melody than chord structures, and has teamed up with saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Adam Nussbaum to play them. You can play them as well, as the composer has included the sheet music for all nine tunes in the CD booklet.

Swallow's spare,elegantmelodies have some of the clarity of Ornette Coleman's or Thelonious Monk's, spiced with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. He writes that it was a much more positive experience to play them than compose them; certainly the trio throw themselves into tackling them with gusto. Potter's tenor gobbles up all of Swallow's harmonic implications like Pac Man on steroids; his devotion to Sonny Rollins shines through in his ability to improvise at length and at speed without resorting to recycling ideas, though his ballad playing gives some of his best moments (particularly "Item 3").

Unlike many of his peers who plugged in and switched on, Swallow treats the electric instrument as an entirely different proposition from its acoustic daddy. Playing with a plectrum, his fluid, rippling lines and resonant chording celebrates the instrument's, er, 'guitarness'. It's made him one of the few electric bassists to be worth much as a soloist, but Swallow's not really interested in grandstanding. Instead. he concentrates on carving out cool, architecturally beautiful lines (or as he terms them, 'exercises in spontaneous counterpoint').

Long term sparring partner Nussbaum offers tireless support. His light, inventive touch gives the music an airy, infectious groove. Like Dave Holland's band, Swallow's trio engage the head, heart and feet with their unpretentious yet cerebral swing.Unreservedly recommended.

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