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Artist’s Choice: Gary Peacock

Guitarist Rez Abbasi chooses 10 must-hear Gary Peacock tracks

Gary Peacock

On any given track featuring Gary Peacock, you can hear the bassist embody jazz’s spirit of freedom through melody, harmony, rhythm, texture and interplay. Improvising musicians are too often concerned with the end result, but Peacock is fully immersed in the moment, where he seems to trust his intuition as the guiding force. From there, whatever happens, happens-and that is jazz defined.

“Ghosts: First Variation”

Albert Ayler Trio

Spiritual Unity (ESP-Disk’, 1965)

The first idea that comes to mind when I listen to Peacock is fearless expression. Whether soloing or accompanying, he garners his ideas from instinct and trust. The great free-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler’s concept and music, along with Sunny Murray’s beyond-convention drumming, formed a perfect environment for a young and very flexible Peacock. In this trio setting, we hear Ornette Coleman’s influence pushed into further realms.


Paul Bley/John Gilmore/Paul Motian/Gary Peacock

Turning Point (Improvising Artists; rec. 1964, rel. 1975)

Another seminal record with a stellar group. This album moves along a similar path that stresses free-melodic jazz, but with the addition of an overtly harmonic instrument. Again, Peacock steers the music in many directions, along with pianist Bley, saxophonist Gilmore and drummer Motian. What’s mesmerizing is how they breathe as one-melodically, harmonically, rhythmically and texturally. If Beethoven lived in this period, he may have written like this-or at least tried to!

“Major Major”

Gary Peacock/Keith Jarrett/Jack DeJohnette

Tales of Another (ECM, 1977)

Predating this band’s designation as Jarrett’s “Standards Trio,” Tales features Peacock’s brilliant composing. Here he applies a twelve-tone sensibility to major triads played over a pedal point. The resulting tune and performance are stunning, and this session marks a new direction in Peacock’s development, magnified by his association with ECM.

“December Greenwings”

Gary Peacock

December Poems (ECM, 1979)

Peacock’s ability to converse in a duo setting with saxophonist Jan Garbarek is breathtaking. I love how he walks four to the floor behind Garbarek, as if he hears a great drummer in the room with them. It certainly feels that good.

“So Green”

Gary Peacock

Shift in the Wind (ECM, 1980)

This tune is gorgeous, as is this trio with pianist Art Lande and drummer Eliot Zigmund. Peacock’s hugely sustained notes are apparent from the start. I appreciate how he handles Lande’s highly lyrical tune with simplicity and a sense of respect.


Gary Peacock

Guamba (ECM, 1987)

A great Peacock original. I am always taken with how he follows through with his ideas when soloing, and Peacock’s performance here is melodic development at its best. One foot is in tradition and the other is on the edge, an attribute found in all his music, regardless of style or dynamic. This is also a standout record for drummer Peter Erskine.

“Only Yesterday”

John Surman

Adventure Playground (ECM, 1992)

A very open Peacock composition that serves as a textural bed for Surman’s complex timbre on saxophone. Peacock uses space in a remarkable way, as do pianist Paul Bley and drummer Tony Oxley, to heighten subtlety. The title of the album is fitting for this collective.

“Flutter Step”

Gary Peacock/Ralph Towner

Oracle (ECM, 1994)

Peacock’s ability in a duo setting is again startling, and here you can more clearly hear his signature attack, dynamic range and uncanny phrasing. He has a way of sometimes sounding like a percussionist who happens to be playing bass. And with Towner on nylon-string guitar, it can sound like a rhythmic feast.

“Hiding Place”

Marc Copland Trio

Paradiso (Soul Note, 1997)

A more conventional setting finds Peacock swinging hard alongside drummer Billy Hart in pianist Copland’s brilliant and buoyant trio. It’s refreshing to hear Peacock solo in this context, especially since so many players are obsessed with perfection at the cost of creativity. He stands on the same playing field as Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, Andrew Hill, Paul Motian and many others who service music through the concept of risk.

“Voices From the Past”

Marilyn Crispell/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian

Amaryllis (ECM, 2001)

This trio creates great subtlety and vibe. I really like Peacock in this setting, because the way Crispell (piano) and Motian (drums) play here is from the bottom up, or with a less-is-more attitude.

Rez Abbasi is a guitarist whose latest album is Suno Suno (Enja).

Originally Published