|Courage is drummer Chris Massey, sax / reed player John Mills and bassist Steve Swallow. 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.
Courage is a subliminal trio featuring the soft tones of reed player Mills, the electric heartbeat of bassist Swallow, and the delicate drumming of Massey. They join forces with poet Creeley, who recites his somber works while Courage establishes the moody countercurrent. Mills is a lyrical saxophonist with a breathy tone whose notes seem to prance on filaments of light wire. His bass clarinet playing is mournful in keeping with the overcast haze that blankets the set. When he adds overdubbed keyboards to the mix, a non-secular mist rises to meet the sensitive rhythms from Swallow and Massey. Swallow's understated bass keeps the music on its low-keyed journey where melancholy moods predominate. Massey exudes deep, cushioned tones in keeping with the near-solemn atmosphere the trio conjures.
Creeley's poetry is thought provoking. He does not have a dynamic speaking voice, but the sincerity in his verse and recitation overrides this. His work is not so much related to injustices in the world or human inequities; it is more oriented toward pensive, wistful thoughts of day-to-day struggles. He appears on about half the selections, baring his inner thoughts while the trio weaves its heady message around the words. Creeley's poetry projects a downtrodden soul seeking to maintain life but seemingly giving up hope. Even Mills' feathery flute playing cannot dispel this perception. The words and music blend very naturally, joining to set a united tone. While there is no light penetrating these clouds, there are plenty of contemplative moments for pondering life.