REVIEW: Annette Peacock solo at Cafe Oto

Annette Peacock at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Annette Peacock solo
(Cafe Oto on 20 November 2015. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston.)

Annette Peacock is a true artist. Her music, her songs, her lyrics are her art, her poetry. At Cafe Oto she gave a wonderful solo performance. One of the most compelling witnessed. It was only one set, but it was a distillation of her art, intimate, absorbing, captivating.

Peacock has a striking presence, a natural sense of style and understatement, which commanded attention from the moment she was ushered round the sold-out crowd to the stage area. The execution and her arrangements were that of the careful perfectionist, offering an uncanny sense of spacious tension with every note, word and gesture. Music of spellbinding, jazzy beauty, elusive, mesmerising.

Just her voice and keyboards, maintaining equilibrium between her extraordinarily agile vocal range and the nuanced tones of the venue's Yamaha grand, the ethereal strains of her vintage Roland D 50 digital synth, and occasional forays in to digital beats.

Peacock's keynote high pitched, distant voicings, delicate, yet sharp, were not only still there, fifty years on from her early recordings, but sounding even better - evaporating in to the ether, rebounding to underpin the wistful, plaintive qualities of her songs.

Songs of reflection, of pain, of isolation, of love and feelings, of inner honesty and searching. A tender poetry - nothing trite, every word carved and crafted. Phrases resonating, sweet and bitter, hitting deep.

Peacock's lyrics made their mark as she drew on long-standing and more recent repertoire. Twisting the knife, from Succubus - "I don't need to take Valium or opium to know what it takes to leave you." From B 4 U Said, from her ECM album, An Acrobat's Heart, "That you know my soul … I know my soul is being seen." From others, disconcertingly, "Feelings last too long," and alarmingly, "My heart is not beating at all." The broadest vistas were embraced: "… beyond the pretence of time …" "the infinite surrounds me" - and the political: "Will the scientists find how to report all the damage done?"

Self-taught, her roots are in the 60s and 70s jazz and experimental electronics - she and Paul Bley explored the potential of the first Moogs and performed with the like-minded percussionist, Han Bennink. Now, looking for parallels, the individual voices of Scott Walker, Yoko Ono, may be the closest.

Playing Albert's Love Theme, a beautiful, lightly fractured solo piano composition from 1966, she recalled with affection the impact of Albert Ayler - "a big influence on me. Can you hear it?" - with whom she travelled after persuading her then husband, bassist Gary Peacock to join Ayler in his trio.

To close, she threw in a funk beat infused with Grace Jones intent, intertwined, slightly unnervingly with a recording of her own singing voice and just added a few notes on the synth before taking her leave. A star.

Peacock's performances are rare events, and she will be back for one more, unmissable night at Cafe Oto on Monday 23 November.

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