Canadian pianist Marilyn Lerner has garnered a name for herself as one of the most diverse and exciting pianists to emerge in the last ten years. Best known among her releases is a series of albums with the co-op Queen Mab Trio, with violist Ig Henneman and clarinetist Lori Friedman. But also included in her discography are several albums based around Jewish music, a duo set with guitarist Sonny Greenwich
, and a number of piano trio releases, all drawing on both improvisation and composition.
Arms Spread Wide may be the first time Lerner has recorded with bassist Ken Filiano
and drummer Lou Grassi
, but they sound like a seasoned trio. Compositional credits going to all three players suggests that the music is pure improvisation. The musicians seem to know each other well, can suss out each others' intentions, and take the music in different directions, comfortable that the others will respond.
These ten pieces, varying in length from two to ten minutes, have a focus and concision to them that seem to define the term "spontaneous composition." Lerner's piano, while drawing from the Cecil Taylor
end of the piano continuum, has its own unique kinetic energy. While her piano is the focus of attention, Filiano and Grassi are always in there, feeding ideas and providing options for group explorations. Lerner may propose an introductory idea, but the bassist and drummer follow closely behind, strongly establishing the music's direction. The implied 3/4 on Lerner's solo intro to "The Eternal Present" is instantly picked up by Filiano, while Grassi covers a wide swath with a cymbal pulse and snare accentsalmost sounding like Sunny Murray
as the track eventually opens wide into an energetic three way improv.
"Nightwing" is at the opposite end of the spectrum, dwelling on prepared piano, bass and small percussion; each gesture subtle, yet moving the music slowly and inevitably forward. On the balladic "The Dance Within The Game," Filiano's tensile bass lines provide the grounding Lerner needs for her fleeting, delicate lines, as Grassi colors the backdrop with small percussion. "Hommage A Coco Schulmann" is dedicated to a German guitarist who was imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II, but who was released and subsequently enjoyed a fruitful post-war career. The liner notes have this quote from his autobiography: "Once a man learns to swing, he can never march again," and the trio does the quote justice by launching into a swinging, freely improvised piece.
Lerner has found a pair of enormously simpatico players in Filiano and Grassi. They cover a wide terrain and are not boxed in by the limiting specificities of labels like "free jazz" and "piano trio" With Arms Spread Wide one of Lerner's strongest releases, and one of the best piano trio discs released in some time, hopefully this group stays together and continues making music this vital.
Personnel: Marilyn Lerner: piano; Ken Filiano: bass; Lou Grassi: drums, percussion.