BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Marilyn Crispell and David Rothenberg: One Dark Night I Left My Silent House (ECM/Ode)

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Crispell and Rothenberg: Stay, Stray
BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Marilyn Crispell and David Rothenberg: One Dark Night I Left My Silent House (ECM/Ode)

American pianist Marilyn Crispell is one of those rarities: classically trained, she jumped in at the very deep and demanding end of the jazz pool – free jazz, Cecil Taylor, the ferociously intellectual Anthony Braxton Quartet – and used her instincts and training to keep afloat.

Then she struck out confidently.

Crispell – now in her early 60s – has never shied away from a musical challenge, whether it be in the contemporary classical repertoire or taking flight into daring, unscripted jazz.

She has played alongside some of the most interesting players in each idiom – the Reggie Workman Ensemble in the late 80s might have broken a lesser jazz spirit – and her own recordings can be volatile or meditative by turns. But always considered.

This album with a poetic title finds her in duets with clarinetist, philosopher and naturalist David Rothenberg for a cycle of improvisations which are mostly economic and tightly focused (most under the five-minute mark, some fewer than three), and err towards the darkly contemplative.

The titles suggest a pastoral mood – The Hawk and the Mouse, What Birds Sing, Owl Moon, Still Life with Woodpeckers, Snow Suddenly Stopping Without Notice – and the album is book-ended by a barely-there Invocation and an equally hushed Evocation.innervisions

Recorded in a studio in Woodstock – which I take to be her home studio – this is an album that walks the woods at night, listens to the ancient branches creak and yawn, and spends time quietly observing the fresh gentle fall of snow in deep and dark forests.

When that hawk and mouse occupy the same space however there is a visceral tension as Crispell digs into her piano and picks at the strings while Rothenberg's bass clarinet offers a sense of imminent menace.

There is a sprightliness here too (notably on the brief What Birds Sing and the witty Still Life with Woodpeckers with an almost North African feel), but mostly this is discrete, evocative and quiet music which conjures up that dark night in the distant woods outside the silent house of the title.

She has swum a long way from the turbulent waters of Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton for this one.

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