Although Table of Changes is only the third release from the pairing of pianist Marilyn Crispell and percussionist Gerry Hemingway, it comes relatively hot on the heels of Affinities (Intakt, 2011) which broke a long silence since Duo (Knitting Factory, 1989). The paucity of these occurrences belies an extensive shared tenure, both as part of reedman Anthony Braxton's classic quartet from 1984 through until 1992, and in regular hook ups thereafter. In tandem they plumb the extremes of intent exhibited by the pianist's touchstones, from Cecil Taylor inspired full-blooded fury to Bill Evans/ Paul Bley style meditation. Although by this juncture of course those influences have been long transcended and what you get is pure Crispell.
Contrapuntal interplay proliferates, not only between the two protagonists, which is a given in the stripped back format of a duet, but also as an integral ingredients of each individual's expression on what are multiple voiced instruments. By way of illustration, at times Crispell juxtaposes dark bass register counter arguments against her lean left hand runs, while Hemingway interweaves gong strikes within a snare drum commentary. Such added layers of complexity promise near orchestral possibilities. Hemingway extends the approach even further as he ranges beyond his standard kit to incorporate vibes and other percussive devices into the jointly improvised flow. However in spite of his virtuosity, Crispell remains the dominant storyteller here.
Comprising eight pieces selected from a series of concert performances in May 2013, the album celebrates the near telepathic communication between these two masters. "Spirings" serves as an emphatic opener and one which demonstrates the emotional volatility which pervades the program. It's more a robust exchange of views than a relaxed chat. Such is the elemental power of their fiercely reiterated motifs, that heavy metal head shaking might be an appropriate response, before a reflective coda with Hemingway on vibes leads into the sparkling shimmer of "Waterwisp."
However between that assertive start and the similarly bracing closing title track the selections are programmed to reveal a common language, rich in harmony and texture, which creates a pleasing narrative arc. "Night Passing" and "Windy City" share a lot of similarities of mood and pacing. Each cut slowly unfolds and blossoms: the former into dramatic ringing clusters and spare lyricism which hints at meter but never entirely commits; and the latter into austere ballad tracts. That bountiful feel is accentuated by a wonderful version of Cole Porter's "Ev'rytime We Say Goodbye" in which barely suppressed energy chafes at the lush valedictory melancholy. It's the highlight of an outstanding recital.
Marilyn Crispell: piano; Gerry Hemingway: drums, percussion, vibraphone.
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