Fans of piano jazz might have a preference for the trio formatpiano/bass/drums. Or they might like their piano straight, no chaser, with solo piano sets. There is no shortage of trio and solo recordings floating around for our listening enjoyment. But two pianos? Rare, though not unheard of. Brad Mehldau and Kevin Hays offered up the excellent Modern Music (Nonesuch Records) in 2011; and Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn presented us with one of the finest jazz albums of the year in 2018 with The Transitory Poems (ECM Records).
Now, in 2020, pianists Angelica Sanchez and Marilyn Crispell, have decided that it is their turn to sit down in tandem, on How to Turn the Moon, for the stirring up of the possibilities of so many potential chords, so many potential melodies, intertwined, complementary, often in a minimalist fashion, with the occasional storm of transitory maximalism rollicking into soundscapes.
A broad idea of the sound the duo makes can be hinted at by the company they often keep: the Anthony Braxton Quartet, Joe Fonda, the Reggie Workman and Gary Peacock in Crispell's case; Wadada Leo Smith, Paul Motian, Tim Berne and Jamaladeen Tacuma for Sanchez. Both pianists are searchers, open to the unconventional. "Let's see what happens" players who embrace the sounds of surprise and off center beauty into their artistries.
The album of seven Sanchez originalsalong with three in-the-moment compositions by Sanchez and Crispellopens with "Lobe Of the Fly," inspired by Ramon y Cajal's drawings which feature cells in the optic lobe of a fly. It is a convoluted and urgent piano workout, leaning to the maximalism side, flirting with chaos without quite going there. "Ancient Dream" features inside the piano machinations which serve the same purpose that "electronics" do for many jazz artistsdrag-the body-across-the-floor scratches and bumps, ghostly knockings and raindrop plinks, along with a nice use of space and some straight and very pretty piano ruminations.
"Calyces Of Held" is titled for one of the central nervous system's largest synapsesSanchez seems wide open to the absorption of a vast array of inputs to use as inspiration. This is a probing sound, both pianists moving fluidly, conversationally, beautifully, in communion in the studio with a form of musical telepathy rather than a physical communication between actual synapses.
A bonus is the striking cover art by Felicia Van Bork, bringing thoughts of Charles MingusAh Um (Columbia, 1959) and Dave Brubeck's Time Out (Columbia, 1959), and a time when the physical product was the thing.
Lobe Of The Fly; Ancient Dream; Calces Of Held; Space Junk; Ceiba Portal; Windfall Light; Twisted Roots; Sullivan's
Universe; Rain in The Web; Fires In Space.
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