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Review: Swallow Tales

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Monday June 08, 2020

From The Arts Desk

Album: John Scofield, Steve Swallow, Bill Stewart – Swallow Tales
By: Sebastian Scotney

Swallow Tales is a great album. It took three musicians fewer than five hours on one afternoon in New York studio in March 2019 to make. But there again, it also took them more than 40 years.

John Scofield became aware of bassist Steve Swallow in the 1960s when he was a teenager. Swallow was on some of the first albums that the young guitarist owned. Scofield then became his student at Berklee College in Boston, the age difference between them just over 11 years. ‘He was an established great and I was a rookie,’ he recently explained in an interview. Scofield and Swallow first recorded a pair of albums in the trio format together in 1980 with drummer Adam Nussbaum. And since then ‘we’ve played a zillion gigs and made a bunch of records over the years… I’ve learned so much from him.’ Scofield talks of Swallow not just as a friend but as a mentor. The easeful and complementary way in which they work together has a particular appeal: as he says of their collaboration, ‘Sometimes when we play it’s like one big guitar, the bass part and my part together.’

For this recording, Scofield’s first as leader for ECM, they just went into the recording studio and played, then sent the recording off to Manfred Eicher ‘and he took it.’ The tunes, all by Swallow, are compositions that all three musicians evidently have completely under their fingers and under their skin. “We played them cold,” Scofield says.

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