Sunday, December 04, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Balancing Introversion with Extroverted Expression

Marilyn Crispell: Vignettes. 2008. ECM: 2027.

Marilyn Crispell: piano

A solo recording by one of the best improvising pianists on the planet realized with all the attention to production and recording detail that one expects from the ECM label. It's no surprise that this is a great record. Drawing upon Marilyn Crispell's current "lyrical period," though she insists that the lyricism was always present in her music since the beginning of her career. Which is true. But at some point she hit upon a sense of restraint and an ability to tap into something finely balanced between simplicity and technical virtuosity that is astonishing. This radiant sound is on full display on Vignettes. Realized here as seventeen short pieces that also show off her sense of ending. Pieces that end with a satisfying tranquility. Each sent into this world with a fully realized sense of form above and beyond the considerable aural creativity of this incredible talent.

Jen Baker: trombone, voice

With a tone composed of voice and trombone unified by a singular breath, Jen Baker explores a timbral interplay that transforms her instrument into an organic entity rich in musical and organic possibilities. Baker traverses a range that growls with humanity before taking more lyrical turns. At times hinting toward Tuvan throat singing, at other times developing its own internal counterpoint. Jen Baker sustains this recording with her improvisational ability and sense of rhythmic balance. Not to mention her impressive musical chops. This is an expressive and honest solo recording that exposes a refined and truly engaging and imaginative extended technique.

Phil Dwyer: composition, conductor, piano, tenor saxophone
Mark Fewer: strings conductor, violin soloist
Mark Ferris, Robin Braun, Jason Ho, Jennie Press, Toni Stanick, Yi Zhou, Karen Gerbrecht, Anne Cramer, Cam Wilson, Ashley Plaut, Angela Goddard, Rick Dorfer: violins
Neil Miskey, Isabelle Rolans, Henry Lee, Reg Quiring: violas
Joseph Elworthy, Zoltan Rosnyai, Olivia Blander, Charles Inkman: cellos
Dylan Palmer: double bass
Walter White, Derry Byrne, Henry Christian, John Korsrud, Ingrid Jensen: trumpets
Ian McDougall, Al Kay, Jeremy Berkman, Sharman King: trombones
Chris Gestrin: piano
John Wikan: drums, percussion

Naming the four movements of this suite after the four seasons of the year may suggest a nod toward Vivaldi. But the richly modal orchestral jazz writing draws much of its inspiration from Gil Evans. The performances and arrangements of this wildly varied work by Phil Dwyer is nearly flawless. His seemingly easy access to the substance and humanity of a century of jazz influences is translated here into a work of relentless beauty (that also manages to swing). Changing Seasons is notably devoid of any gimmicks. Each parameter of this music is carefully constructed. Each solo reinforcing the overall sweep of this music. It won't grab a passive listener and overwhelm them with the layers of materials and ideas that went into this music. At the same time it rewards the active listener with its seemingly endless transitions as they unfold with unreserved beauty. The "change" of the Changing Seasons is the key to this ambitious piece.

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