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Steve Swallow with Robert Creeley: So There

Budd Kopman By

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So There is a mixture of Robert Creeley reading short poems and fragments of longer ones, surrounded and accompanied by Steve Kuhn's light, dazzling, free piano and Steve Swallow's feathery bass (and guitar-like solos in the upper register)—plus occasionally the Cikada String Quartet, both alone and with Swallow and Kuhn.

Creeley's poems have an understated pulse, but his readings emphasize it even more, especially as he many times breaks down words into separate syllables. Swallow has long been influenced by the way Creeley speaks musically from his first encounter in the '50s, through the '60s and '70s when he set some poems to music, culminating in Home (ECM, 1980). Creeley himself loved jazz, and it seemed to have influenced the meter of his work.

Creeley's voice is supremely human and down to earth, cracking a bit with age, but still very direct and wise. He speaks of life lived, of dreams, of nature and man and of death as not something to fear. Swallow responds with eighteen short tracks, fitting into just over fifty minutes, that flow into one another, creating one long song of life with its own arc. The poetry can start the track, drop into the middle surrounded by music, or act as an answer at the end, as if Creeley jumps in at the most opportune moment, or on cue, improvising with the musicians.

The string quartet arranging is varied and uniformly excellent, belying Swallow's fear of doing what he felt had to be done to do justice to the poems. At times he creates purely atmospheric sounds and interjections, and at others there are straight voice-led progressions that can sound very Romantic, but nothing is tricky. Likewise with Kuhn's playing as he hops lightly and clearly, sometimes playing rhythmically against Creeley's voice as he simultaneously listens to and ignores Swallow's bass pulses.

The cumulative effect of the recording is to lay out for the listener a poet whose words are full of pathos, amplified by music that seemingly emanates from inside those words. Separately, both poetry and music can, in the ideal situation, change the listener. Together, as in So There they engulf and envelope, bringing up emotions you might not know were inside you.

Among the fascinating things about this release is that the poems were recorded in 2001, and Swallow worked on the music for four years, anticipating that Creeley, he and Kuhn would get together for the final recording. However, Creeley died before that could happen, so what you hear is the musicians playing against, around and within pre-recorded words—but the final product sounds extremely natural.

This is the initial wonder of So There, but this artifice quickly fades as the musical words take hold of your heart.

Visit Steve Swallow on the web.

Track Listing: Oh No; Names; Here Again; Ambition; Indians; from Histoire De Florida; Sufi Sam Christian; Later; from Wellington, New Zealand / from Eight Plus; Miles; Just in Time; Return; Echo; Sad Advice; Riddle; Blue Moon; I Know a Man; A Valentine for Pen.

Personnel: Steve Swallow: bass; Robert Creeley: voice; Steve Kuhn: piano; The Cikada String Quartet: Henrik Hannisdal: violin; Odd Hannisdal: violin; Marek Konstantynowicz: viola; Morten Hannisdal: cello.

Title: So There | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: XtraWATT/ECM

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