Way Out Is Via the Door
Courage is drummer Chris Massey, sax / reed player John Mills and bassist Steve Swallow. On 'The Way Out is Via the Door,' a collaboration of music and poetry, they are joined by Robert Creeley, reading his texts over the sultry, smoky, softly-rendered strains of late-night jazz played by the band. This is beautiful music, a session of intimate, creative jazz conversation. Robert Creeley is one of America's greatest living poets; he was the link between the Beat poets of Greenwich Village and those of Black Mountain College. Creeley has long acknowledged the influence of jazz and improvised music on his work, and in fact considers himself a musician in these contexts. His work was the source of inspiration for 'Home,' the 1980 ECM album in which Swallow set Creeley's words to music sung by Sheila Jordan. He has also performed and recorded with New York sound experimentalists Mercury Rev. Before turning to the acoustic bass at age 14, Steve Swallow studied piano and trumpet. He has played with many of the greats, including Pee Wee Russell, Buck Clayton and Vic Dickenson. In 1960 he began to play with Paul Bley, The Jimmy Giuffre Trio and George Russell's sextet, which featured Eric Dolphy and Thad Jones. He also performed in the early '60s with Joao Gilberto, Sheila Jordan, and bands led by Benny Goodman, Marian McPartland, Chico Hamilton, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer and Chick Corea. He has placed first (electric bass) in the Downbeat International Critics Poll since 1983, and in the Downbeat Readers Poll since 1985. Impressionistic jazz drummer Chris Massey was born in Buffalo, New York and now resides in Switzerland. He has performed with some of the most influential artists of the modern era, including Bill Frisell, David Torn, Christy Doran, Kevin Eubanks, Hans Koch, Chris Duarte, and Brian Gephart. Texas-based composer and reedman John Mills has performed with Kenny Wheeler, Carla Bley, Roscoe Mitchell, Tonina Horta, Billy Hart and Mitch Watkins. 'The Way Out is Via the Door' is a beautifully realized recording of intimate, creative jazz conversations, placing all three voices as equals and allowing the lines created to weave together and apart at will, sometimes floating over cushions of sound-wash, and creating spontaneous tension-release statements. This is the classic grouping of saxophone-bass-drums from another angle, perhaps from inside the mirror looking out, augmented by John Mills' wonderful use of the bass clarinet and by drummer Chris Massey's statement that the drums are a melodic instrument as well. And Steve Swallow, one of the featured voices, shows that he is the master of the melodic bass line. The addition of the wonderfully sensitive poet Robert Creeley, here, from a series of live tour performances, only adds to the charm of this recording. 'The Way Out is Via the Door' was recorded at the Make Believe Ballroom in upstate New York by Tom Mark, who has recorded numerous sessions for ECM, Concord, Watt, Jack DeJohnette, Carla Bley, Alice Coltrane, Max Roach, and many others. * 'Robert Creeley is a lyric poet of singular observation.' - The Wire 'Music and poetry make uneasy bedfellows at the best of times but on this effort, from American 'creative jazz' trio Courage, the stylised prose from Beat poet Creeley makes perfect sense... Creeley's cleverly (de)constructed narratives riff on the universal themes of love, loss and happiness, referencing William Blake and Samuel Beckett into the bargain. The result is an album of startling intimacy and one that avoids the po-faced 'Jazz Club' cul-de-sac. (4/5)' - Kieran Wyatt, Seven (UK) 'Listeners unprepared for the new album by the jazz trio COURAGE, 'THE WAY OUT IS VIA THE DOOR' (482 Music), may be startled -- not just by the light synthesized auras that fill out some of the otherwise acoustic tracks; not just by the slow-burn sense of ensemble produced by Courage members Steve Swallow (bass), Chris Massey (drums) and John Mills (everything else, which includes saxophone, clarinet, flute and those atmosphere-laden keyboards); not just by a cover of the chestnut 'Inchworm,' which closes the record with coy humor; and not just by the presence on the album of esteemed poet Robert Creeley. What's particularly startling is the way Creeley appears. He often arrives late in a given tune, long after the band has had time to establish musical themes and a particular mood. On the album's second cut ('I Dreamt I Dwelt ...'), three and a half minutes pass before we hear the quavering voice of Creeley, at 76 one of America's national literary treasures. His words don't break the spell so much as recast it -- what sounded atmospheric and reflective becomes a little paranoid, as Creeley reads, 'I dreamt I dwelt in a big building ... bars in front and behind / Nothing on my mind.' His voice is sad, like that of someone who has recently cried, and that sadness imbues the words with weight, even though the voice itself is fragile. He shows up on 'What's Gone Is Gone' after a minute and a half, filling small gaps between Mills's horn phrases with words (or perhaps vice versa). The band doesn't back Creeley up, so much as play their varied music -- the ritual drumming of 'Blood in Spirit,' the echoes of Mills' horn on 'Uncantation,' Swallow's extended solo on 'Signs of Life' -- and, when appropriate, summon the poet, whose brief recitations are like omniscient narration in a beautiful but otherwise silent and abstract film. -Marc Weidenbaum, Pulse.