Charlie Peacock: Exhibits Curiosity, Returns to Jazz Roots
In 1984 Peacock packed his first pop album, Lie Down in the Grass (A&M), with inventive insights into matters of faith and life. He toured, wrote and recorded for a number of labels before coming fully into contemporary Christian music (CCM) in the late 1980s. It proved a mixed blessing; the scene was ripe for someone of such seditious creativity, but the establishment of CCM as a separate genre led to pigeonholing of artists who couldn't grow beyond the confining "Christian" stamp. "When I got into CCM I knew that they were just borrowing from their secular neighbors. For me it became about business. My motivation has always been about people, not systems. So I continued to look for a sense of community, people who wanted to follow their hearts for God. When I came to Nashville to be a full-time record producer, people knew I would be open and try new things."
He broke ground in CCM through his fresh songwriting, production work, and imaginative albums like the pop/jazz/ethnic brew, strangelanguage (re: Think, 1996). In his recently updated book At the Crossroads (Shaw Books, 2004), Peacock was openly critical of the Christian music institution and its restrictions on creative exploration. "I never really wanted to be associated with it as a genre, but that was naïve. The genre was really stifling for me. If you build a system that's based on the progressive use of music alone to reach young people, don't be surprised if it spits you out. For people who are supposed to revere the Creator, (CCM) is really a poorly worked-out system." Peacock advocates what he terms a "kingdom perspective," realizing that there are not only limitless opportunities for expression outside of the insular CCM marketplace, but a biblical mandate to take one's art outside those confines.
Love Press Ex-Curio, with its colorful mixture of original acoustic and electronic jazz explorations, fits nicely into Peacock's own kingdom perspective. "The commission from Christ was to go and be his kind of people in the world, not to create a separate society that is disconnected from the world. Love Press is an extension of my desire just to make music with people, based upon how faithful they are to their humanity in making music." That viewpoint colored his selection of musicians as much as the music itself. "Improvisers are very bright people who are very open to discussing things. My goal is to deal with and express reality, and I can't do that if I'm setting criteria like religious compatibility."
For Peacock, it was a long path from [singer] Amy Grant to [saxophonist] Ravi Coltrane. The deaths of both his father and a sideman, [singer] Vince Ebo, in 1993 set him to thinking about greater issues than sales numbers and pop styles. "By 1996, after working pretty steadily for six or seven years, the fun was over for me. I created the re:Think label to pursue some new ideas. In 1999 my wife and I moved to St. Louis. I went to seminary, studied and rested up. Eventually I started doing piano duets and trying to get to the point where I could play music for the Father in my own way. Improvisation has always done that for me."
Love Press Ex-Curio is the culmination of decades of thought, experience and inspiration. "The music is born out of improvisation," Peacock says, "with a minimum of composition. I imposed some composer's ideas on the improvisation to add some structure. I think it's a good blend of my influences: Bitches Brew (Columbia/Legacy, 1969), Keith Jarrett and Andrew Hill. One influence that might not come out as much is Carla Bley, the work she did on Social Studies (WATT/ECM, 1981) and Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports (Columbia, 1981). I kind of see myself in that auteur role. I like to collaborate and give musicians a chance to expand."
Networking in New York helped Peacock assemble the recording's personnel. "[Bassist] James Genus introduced me to [pianist] Uri CaineI love his album Zohar Keter (Knitting Factory, 1999)who recommended [trumpeter] Ralph Alessi to me. I went to a [trumpeter] Dave Douglas show at the Village Vanguard and talked with Dave afterwards about trumpet players. He said, 'Yeah, Ralph is the guy,' and gave me his number." Kip Kubin and Tony Miracle of electronica's Venus Hum provide ambient treatments of Peacock's piano on several tracks. Also on deck are Genus, Flecktones bassist Victor Wooten and woodwind multi-instrumentalist Jeff Coffin, [guitarist] Myles Boisen and [drummer] Gino Robair of Splatter Trio, [drummer] Joey Baron, [saxophonist] Kirk Whalum, guitarists Jerry McPherson and Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tower of Power organist Roger Smith, and Nashville session drummer Jim White.