Monday, March 16, 2009

The Telepathic Duo

Marilyn Crispell/Gerry Hemingway @ An Die Musik, Baltimore, MD
Saturday, March 14, 2009

Marilyn Crispell: piano
Gerry Hemingway: drums, percussion

In his superbly written Forces in Motion (pulished in 1989), Graham Locke tagged along with the legendary Anthony Braxton Quartet on a 1985 tour through the UK in an effort to communicate the creative substance of their music.  Marilyn Crispell and Gerry Hemingway were one half of that quartet.  After more than a quarter century of making music together this pair continues to smolder as creative forces still in motion.  Forces that have continued to grow and expand their collaborative sonic vocabulary over the decades.

Gerry Hemingway brings a wonderful focus toward his percussive textures.  His technique of bowing the vibraphone while rhythmically striking it with a soft mallet is a sound with enormous potential for composed music.  This same attention to timbral range and rhythmic detail was applied to the drum kit as the membranes of drum heads became a surface for amplifying or altering the sounds of metallic bowls, wood blocks and a small wind up music box.  Brushes coaxed soft tones from cymbals, snare and metallic bars of the vibraphone.  Soft tremolos from tiny, hand held bells provided a slight sheet of sound.  And Hemingway explored playful ways of altering the mechanics of the high hat - at one point inserting a metal cup mute between the top and bottom halves.  For all his extended technique, it was often the persistent or absent pulse that was the most striking quality of his playing.  Improvisation built upon a mix of abstract gestures or steady grooves depending on the interplay of the moment.

Marilyn Crispell is a talent held in high esteem at HurdAudio.  Her range and creative inventiveness continues to hold these ears in rapt attention.  Her work within the innards of her instrument provided a sympathetic and collaborative response to Hemingway's sound.  Often to the extent of using drum sticks to play the strings and frame of the piano.  The final piece of their second set featuring a tautly restrained sound of extended pianissimo where Crispell barely touched the keyboard of the instrument.  The mix of free improvisation with composed works offered no audible seams to distinguish between them.  Only the evidence of premeditated forms and gestures within a larger texture rich with detail.

The chemistry and interplay between these individual talents is impressive.  The immediacy of their collaborative spontaneity often felt more telepathic than reactive.  Extended periods of driving pulse flowed immediately into a tight, rhythmic pocket while sparse textures often featured gestures with a similar lock step between partners.  Almost as if one performer was finishing the sentence begun by the other.  The conversation between them turning continually between scintillating ideas and drawing upon a refined vocabulary forged from the forces that continue to bring these players together.

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