Swallow says that he had previously "been concerned with vertical structure, as I felt harmony provided an improviser with the strongest base on which to build a solo." Consequently the bands on his last three releases (Real Book, Deconstructed and 2000’s live album, Always Pack Your Uniform on Top) used piano or guitar, and a two-horn front line that allowed the arrangements to provide a rich support for the soloists.
On Damaged in Transit the emphasis is on counterpoint. The three instruments weave melodies that intertwine before heading off for improvisational territory. Take "Item 1, D.I.T." (the tracks have no separate titles, which eliminates any preconceptions); Swallow and Potter undulate, sometimes moving together, other times apart, but always with a unified sense of purpose.
Swallow has been working with saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Adam Nussbaum since 1997’s Deconstructed and the bond that has developed between them is palpable. Swallow has, over the course of his career, developed a distinctive vocabulary and a warm, supple sound that is at the same time supportive and dominant. Potter, with his lyrical yet imaginative sensibility, continues to show that he is arguably the premier tenor player of his generation; Nussbaum, who has worked behind many great artists, is a melodic and inventive player deserving wider recognition.
The pieces on Damaged in Transit vary from intensely swinging ("Item 5, D.I.T."), to darkly lyrical ("Item 3, D.I.T."), to gently positive ("Item 8, D.I.T.). Trio pieces are broken up with duets and solo sections. The whole set is well-paced, and edited together to approximate an almost continuous piece.
What is remarkable about Damaged in Transit is how full the trio sounds. With each instrument always finding its place in an ever-shifting environment, harmonies that are not played seem somehow implied.
With a trio that has developed, from seven years of working together, into an empathic, well-honed unit, this is an album that continues to cement Swallow’s reputation as a writer and bandleader. Walking away from his comfort zone, Swallow enters new territory with Damaged in Transit, and meets it head-on with his usual confidence and dry sense of humour.
Damaged in Transit will be released by ECM on October 14, 2003