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Marilyn Crispell Storyteller Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

Third ECM outing from one of the most important piano stylists of her generation...

Peter Marsh 2004

Through a string of solo records in the 80s and her membership of bands led by Anthony Braxton and Reggie Workman, Marilyn Crispell established herself as one of the most versatile and compelling pianists of her generation.

Influenced equally by Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane,Crispell's mix of explosively percussive playing (the old "88 tuned drums" approach) and ecstatic improv skills weren't quite enough to keep her from having to support herself by doing waitressing jobs. In a world where Mccoy Tyner's had to drive a cab, Anthony Braxton's had to use his own furniture for firewood and Keith Tippett's had to raffle copies of his rare albums to scrape by, I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised at that.

Crispell's profile (and hopefully her bank balance) has been upped by her association with ECM, which kicked off with 1991's Nothing Ever Was Anyway, an album of Annette Peacock tunes. This and the subsequent Amaryllis continued her partnership with Paul Motian in a trio that included the great bassist Gary Peacock. Inevitably given the label's house style, these records showed a much more reflective Crispell, given to a delicacy of touch reminiscent of Paul Bley or Bill Evans.

Storyteller sees Mark Helias taking over from Peacock, but the song remains much the same. In fact, this trio pare down the music even more; there are times when the space between the notes ring as loud as the notes themselves. The drummer's plucked a few choice tunes from his back catalogue which showcase his usual folky immediacy and Helias contributes chamber music delicacy; Crispell only contributes three tunes out of the eleven, but the trio's interplay and sensitivity make this an explicitly collaborative venture.

Occasionally (as on The Sunflower)things get a little animated but for the most part this is poised, thoughtful music that gently demands close listening. Motian's quiet restlessness gives Helias plenty to think about; differing tempi and meters rub gently up against one another in a delicious frottage,while Crispell weaves in and out. Sometimes bass and piano echo each other's phrases; they hang in the air like clouds, till blown away gently by Motian's pattering snare or the hiss of cymbals.

If all this sounds a bit fey, then rest assured that there's plenty of muscle behind this music. It may not be applied often,but the fact that it's there gives Storytellera quiet but profoundintensity.

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