CD Review: The Swallow Quintet – Into the Woodwork

The Swallow Quintet – Into the Woodwork
(XtraWATT 279 8380. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Bassist/composer Steve Swallow cites Frank Sinatra and Marvin Gaye as ‘two of my greatest influences’, asserting that ‘lyricism in music comes from emulating breath in a melodic line’, thereby achieving ‘simplicity and economy’.

All 12 tracks on Into the Woodwork, recorded at the end of the quintet’s recent three-week European tour, might have been specially created to illustrate the effectiveness of this principle: elegant, poised, delicate but punchy and robust, they are perfectly designed to showcase both the assured, unfussy cohesiveness and the individual pithy soloing skills of an showily virtuosic band: Carla Bley (organ), Chris Cheek (tenor saxophone), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Jorge Rossy (drums), and the leader himself on electric bass.

Whether they’re playing neat bustles (‘Into the Woodwork’), bluesy, slow-building slithers (‘Grisly Business’) or graceful, driving lopes (‘The Butler Did It’), Swallow’s stellar band address his often deceptively simple-sounding themes with wry wit, exquisitely tasteful vigour and carefully calibrated control, so that Into the Woodwork, like all the projects to which Swallow contributes his uniquely deft, propulsive bass playing, is a delightfully unassuming but compulsively listenable display of state-of-the-art small-group jazz.

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