It's difficult to give this disc the praise it deserves. Crispell's piano trio work with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian surfaced in fine form on their recent '96 ECM record Nothing Ever Was, Anyway, a tribute to Annette Peacock. Crispell has been quite promiscuous in the past couple decades, working with players from the New York, Chicago, and European improv scenes. Amaryllis, a delicately crystalline record, brings together three personalities with distinctly individual voices. Peacock and Motian combine for a powerfully intuitive "rhythm section" which blurs the boundaries between pulse, harmony, and melody.
In-and-out bass veteran Peacock brings his harmolodic sense to Amaryllis, anchoring the bottom end while at the same time presenting understated counterpoint to the pianist. Crispell appears more than eager to share the stage with his open-ended voice, and some of the finest moments on the record feature improvised conversations between these two players. Motian also blurs the lines, never settling into the traditional swinging role of the jazz drummer. Instead, he uses the snare and cymbals to create ethereal color and accents that propel the music forward more delicately and abstractly.
The tunes on Amaryllis include loosely-structured compositions by each member of the group (and one by Mitchell Weiss), plus four free improvisations. While the understated formal structure of the "composed" pieces offers room for expansion, the pure improv work tunes acquire an equally potent inherent logic as each player contributes ideas and progressions in real time. The free playing constitutes some of the most beautiful moments on the record.
While the general tone of Amaryllis remains dark and melancholic, the record surges with life if you pay attention to the vital interactions among these three players. It's been through at least twenty rounds on my CD player, and I continue to find tasty nuggets scattered throughout. If Nothing Ever Was, Anyway was a masterpiece (and yes, it really was), then Amaryllis reaches if not exceeds that level of pure musicianship. Don't play this disc if you're looking for pep or pizazzbut during quieter moments or periods of introspection, you'll have a hard time finding anything more satisfying.
Personnel: Marilyn Crispell: piano; Gary Peacock: bass; Paul Motian: drums.