Annette Peacock at Cafe Oto
“I live alone,” Annette Peacock told the audience as she settled at the piano stool on Monday evening. “So I talk to myself.” The sense of a continuous interior monologue is always present in the work of this most original composer and performer, and so it was throughout the second of her two nights at Cafe Oto.
She took the stage in semi-darkness. Like Bob Dylan these days, she prefers to do without a frontal spotlight. Still slender and seemingly lithe at 74, she was wearing a grey fur hat pulled down to her eyebrows and a dark tailored jacket, possibly velvet, with ruched shoulders; she looked like something from Tolstoy, as though she’d just come indoors from a snow-covered St Petersburg street in the 1850s.
But this was Dalston in 2015, and the audience rewarded her hour-long set with such keen appreciation that it felt as though Annette Peacock’s time has come at last. Not that she is probably much concerned, having been through several brushes with fame since she arrived in Europe in 1971 with her then husband, the great Canadian jazz pianist Paul Bley, promoting the music in which they (mostly she) explored the possibilities of the Moog synthesiser.
Drawing on five decades’ worth of compositions, she dramatised her lyrics by alternating between her low speaking voice and that striking upper register. The ever-present sense of the erotic, explicit and implicit, was supercharged by the cold reverberations of her stark piano phrases, often picked out with the contrapuntal effect of a single-note line in each hand, sometimes against the background of digital string sounds from her Roland synthesiser — a pleasantly kitschy effect reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtracks — and the occasional rhythm pattern from a drum machine.
The set included “The Succubus” from 1979’s The Perfect Release and “b 4 u said” from An Acrobat’s Heart, the album with a string quartet released by ECM in 2000, and “Nothing Ever Was, Anyway”, first recorded by Paul Bley in 1968 and 28 years later by Marilyn Crispell (on both occasions with Gary Peacock, Annette’s first husband, on bass). There might also have been songs from 31:31, the album she quietly released on her own Ironic label in 2009, but since a new copy nowadays costs a minimum of £184 on Amazon, I’m unable to tell you that.
For her last song, she cued up a slow-jam backing track of funk bass and percussion. She sang for a while, then got up, and — while her pre-recorded voice and the instruments continued — walked quietly through the audience and away.
* The photograph was taken shortly after Annette Peacock had left the stage. Here is a track from 31:31, with an accompanying film directed by Dale Hoyt. Her first album, originally called Revenge, recorded in 1969, released in 1971 and then credited to the Bley-Peacock Synthesiser Show, has just been reissued by Peacock on her own label and under her own name, retitled I Belong to a World That’s Destroying Itself, after one of her songs. I would also recommend Annette, the album of her tunes played by Paul Bley, Gary Peacock and the trumpeter/flugelhornist Franz Koglmann, recorded in 1992 and most recently reissued on the HatHut label in 2010.