Django Bates’ Belovèd – The Study of Touch
(ECM 5732663. CD Review by Jon Turney)
A dozen years playing together gives Django Bates and his trio partners bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun the special understanding it’s hard to develop any other way. It shines through this set, their third CD and first major label release.
Bates delights in being a man of many projects, as he related recently in this magazine feature article. But the Belovèd trio seems established now as near the core of his musical vision. The Study of Touch reinforces that impression by moving on further from the Charlie Parker repertoire the trio began with – there’s a single Parker tune here, a characteristically playful treatment of Passport. All the other pieces, save one by Iain Ballamy, are Bates compositions.
Five of the leader’s pieces repeat from the trio’s 2012 release, Confirmation. The treatments here aren’t radically different. The general tendency as the group lives with the music seems to be for it to become a little lighter, a touch more spacious. There’s more than a soupcon of Bill Evans, as well as clear expressions of his fondness for Keith Jarrett. The four new Bates pieces (Little Petherick recorded by Delightful Precipice in the ’90s but new to the trio) point in similar directions, too, although the two longer ones – the title piece and the sometimes rumbustious Slippage Street – go through a wider range of moods and styles. Overall, the drums, especially, lean toward the reticence of cymbal ticks and lightly brushed skins over much of this set, and the bass playing supports the piano more discreetly.
That doesn’t mean the set lacks variety. Bates’ mastery of shifting textures and unexpected turns of phrase ensures there is always something of interest happening. It does lend the whole a unity that hasn’t attended all his more orchestral projects, which sometimes jumble disparate episodes, or flirt with the boundary where quirkiness slips into whimsy. Here his prodigious flow of ideas is channeled into richly considered music, nicely pointed up by the complementary opener, Sadness All the Way Down, and new closer, Happiness all the Way Up.
This is one of those sets that immediately seems destined to go down as an ECM classic. You could listen to it by pulling up tracks on Spotify or Apple Music, but ever so much better to enjoy the whole programme in the order given. It manages to be full of spontaneity, while also sounding carefully worked out so that the varied parts fit together, and each one alchemically enhances the others.