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Marilyn Crispell: Sibanye (We Are One), Phases of the Night & Geggie Project

David Adler By

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Louis Moholo-Moholo

Sibanye (We Are One)



Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton

Phases of the Night



John Geggie

Geggie Projecy



Put a pin anywhere in the lengthy discography of pianist Marilyn Crispell and you'll stumble on a new facet, an unforeseen window into her turbulent, ever-evolving improvisational discourse. This is because Crispell retains the ability to surprise herself—as must have been the case during her first-ever playing encounter with Louis Moholo-Moholo, the iconic drummer and South African expatriate (now repatriated). The resulting duo session, Sibanye (We Are One), makes for a vibrant contrast with two recent trio efforts involving Crispell and a far-flung roster of colleagues. Bassist Barry Guy, founder of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, enlists Crispell and drummer Paul Lytton for Phases of the Night while Ottawa bassist John Geggie offers Geggie Project, his leader debut, with Crispell and drummer Nick Fraser.

During his exile in London, Moholo worked in an orbit similar to Crispell's own, giving the music of Sibanye (We Are One) a certain historical resonance. Recorded in 2007 at the An Die Musik series in Baltimore, the disc includes seven collaborative pieces, remarkable for their overall restraint. Crispell and Moholo are able to brainstorm at a low and enticing volume, bringing out subtle sonic details without losing intensity. Moholo likes to nudge the music into tempo, whether it's the tom-tom beats of "Reflect" and "Moment of Truth" or the march-like gait that peeks momentarily through "Improvise, Don't Compromise". The set does have its tempestuous side, bringing to mind Remembrance (FMP), Moholo's 1988 duo with Cecil Taylor, although "Phendula (Reply)" and the middle-to-end of "Journey" find Crispell in high lyrical mode, unveiling sunny major-key sonorities. In an odd twist, Moholo vocalizes at the beginning of "Journey," working Crispell's name into something like a hypnotic poetry.

Barry Guy and Paul Lytton have worked extensively in a trio with saxophonist Evan Parker, adding Crispell to record After Appleby (Leo, 2000). This lineup, omitting Parker, also recorded Odyssey for Intakt. Now with Phases of the Night, the Guy/Crispell/Lytton trio gathers again to interpret four Guy compositions inspired by surrealist paintings. The title track takes its name from a work by Max Ernst—a strange canvas of earthy pastoral green and bright institutional blue. Beginning with extended free improvisation, the trio at last arrives at a precise, rhythmically assertive theme, launching Crispell into higher gear. "Insomnie," after an even more abstract painting by Dorothea Tanning, is busy and unsettled, with a long piano-drum duo passage (recalling the Moholo album). "The Invisible Being Embraced," for Wifredo Lam, veers more toward the tonal, with a foreboding intro leading to melodies of an almost classical Spanish tinge. "With My Shadow," for Yves Tanguy, ends the set with dark, hovering chords that work up to dense, rumbling free interplay. Best to let these selections play while gazing attentively at the images that inspired them.

John Geggie, a frequent collaborator of pianist DD Jackson, also finds a satisfying rapport with Crispell on Geggie Project, splitting the program evenly between his original pieces and collective improvised tracks. The recorded sound is uncommonly fine, with Crispell's bell-like single notes filling out the contours of the opening "Credo". Thanks to her seasoned touch, Geggie's compositions breathe exactly as they should, particularly the rubato ballad "Across the Sky" and the tempo-based, off-kilter "Or Not," which recalls some of Crispell's work with Paul Motian. Fraser steps up on the starkly contrapuntal "View from the Bridge"—essentially a drum feature—and pairs up with Crispell authoritatively on "Weather Forecast," one of three duets (the others being "Entre Chien et Loup" and "PH," for piano and bass). Here, as on Sibanye (We Are One) and Phases of the Night, Crispell acquits herself as one of our most adaptable and imaginative pianists, a team player par excellence.

Tracks and Personnel

Sibanye (We Are One)

Tracks: Improvise, Don't Compromise; Moment Of Truth; Journey; Soze (Never); Phendula (Reply); Reflect; Sibanye (We Are One).

Personnel: Marilyn Crispell: piano; Louis Moholo-Moholo: drums.

Phases of the Night

Tracks: Phases of the Night; Insomnie; The Invisible Being Embraced; With My Shadow.

Personnel: Marilyn Crispell: piano; Barry Guy: bass; Paul Lytton: drums.

Geggie Project

Tracks: Credo; Ice and Meltwater; Run-Away Sheep; Réconfort; Or Not; Entre chien et loup; View From The Bridge; Across The Sky; Wheather Forecast; Canon; Écureuils; I Wanted More; PH; Bouclier canadien.

Personnel: Marilyn Crispell: piano; John Geggie: bass; Nick Fraser: drums.


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