Thursday, January 13, 2005
Marilyn Crispell was drawn into piano improvisation by the music of John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor. Since then she has managed to propel those great traditions forward by recording and performing a stunning range of improvised musics. Her own compositions are kinetic, powerful resonances of the forces set in motion by A Love Supreme.
I first became aware of Marilyn Crispell as I was discovering the great music of Anthony Braxton. She is/was such a great part of that Braxton Quartet and I regard her as the definitive piano interpreter of Braxton's music. I then began checking out her solo recordings. The Woodstock Concert in particular impressed me deeply. Like Cecil Taylor, her epic piano performances are so rewarding to focus an active ear upon as the intensity of the ideas and performance unfolds and somehow never unravels. Nearly everything I've heard her play has left an impression on me.
One of the outstanding traits of Crispell's improvising sensibility is how she adapts to each performing situation so seamlessly. There's such a contrast between her projects with different personel and yet there's seemingly no context that finds her out of her element. She's the piano in some of the most poignant passages of the recording of Anthony Davis's opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X and the wild keys on Duo with the great, energetic drummer Gerry Hemingway. There's the deliciously spare work on Nothing Ever was, Anyway, the deeply introspective pairing with Joseph Jarman on Connecting Spirits or the large ensemble sound she contributes to on Reggie Workman's Images just to name a few contrasting documents of her talent.
Marilyn Crispell is a personal "hero" for me because she so consistently achieves the kind of "sound" that I strive toward as a composer. And because I can hear so clearly how she's adapted the voices of Coltrane and Taylor into her own vocabulary. She's tapped into something rich and believable and my ears want to ride along with it.