Graham Reid | | 1 min read
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,
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
This album with a poetic
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.
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.