In his latest press bio, the British keyboardist and composer Django Bates memorably characterizes the operating methods of Swedish bassist Petter Eldh and Danish drummer Peter Bruun, his partners in the piano trio Belovèd. “What Petter and Peter bring to this music of mine,” he says, “is a refusal to play what I’ve written.”
Why does Bates see that refusal as a good thing? Because Eldh and Bruun always bypass playing the composition in favor of playing directly with the composer. Rather than follow symbols on a page, they shadow Bates’ moves closely, mirroring his mood swings and at times seeming to anticipate his thoughts. And because the pianist is a man of many thoughts—now romantic, now somber, now abstract—the music is constantly shifting, to the point where regular markers like key and time signature are obscured and it can be difficult to tell where we are within any given piece. The title of one track, “We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way,” aptly sums up the whole; way-finding is a constant group activity here, and a fascinating one.
This band’s original purpose, to pay tribute to the music of Charlie Parker, is ancient history now, represented only by a brief but clever run through “Passport.” The remaining 10 tracks are by Bates, who was already a sophisticated composer in the 1980s, with Loose Tubes and Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, and who has only gained in artfulness and sensitivity since. He’s penned some beauties here, particularly the introspective ballad “Little Petherick” and the off-kilter funk workout “Slippage Street.” Belovèd may not play these pieces as written, but they do play them with the grace and gusto they deserve.