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As the world’s first, one of the few, and the premier electric bassist of the straight-jazz world, Steve Swallow has long ago carved out his niche, using this unlikely instrument to make vividly lyrical music. We’ve seen how he can impact any session he’s called into supporting, whether it’s led by Gary Burton, John Scofield, Steve Kuhn, or his longtime companion and musical kindred spirit, the esteemed Carla Bley. Impactful as he is performing as a sideman or collaborator, Swallow is a composer of nearly equal level as his mate; ‘Sing Me Softly of the Blues’ is one of his signature tunes. And that alone is why his first solely led album for a decade is worth paying attention to.
His new project Into The Woodwork is more than that, though. This introduces on record a new version of Swallow’s quintet, a striking combination of young talent at the peak of their careers (saxophonist Chris Speed, guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummer Jorge Rossy) and a couple of jazz’s most seasoned veterans who never got past their own peaks (Swallow and Bley). Moreover, Swallow put Bley on the organ instead of her usual piano, and it’s been quite some time since Carla has last been captured playing one.
Electric bass, electric guitar and electric organ…but not a fusion record. That’s perhaps the most distinguishing feature of this album, as Swallow sought to forge together a certain combination of instruments foreign to the modern jazz space he occupies. He does this to create a subtly new sonic impression against the backdrop of Swallow’s usual discreet approach to song crafting. It’s a mellow-to-moderate album, where tunes are deceptively simple, but close listening finds the great effort that went to make them seem effortless. [...]
A career that spans all the way back to 1960 shows no sign of letting up. Steve Swallow made an organically elegant record using a lot of electricity. Meticulously conceived and yet breezily executed, Into The Woodwork is a welcome entry from Swallow and his talent-packed quintet.
S. Victor Aaron, Something Else! Reviews