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Marilyn Crispell: Vignettes

Martin Longley By

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Pianist Marilyn Crispell was always primarily known as a stylistic descendant of Cecil Taylor, never resting for a moment as she spewed out endless runs of high invention, cascades of pointillistically constructed density. But everyone becomes calmer eventually and this solo piano set finds Crispell in an extremely introverted state, examining the relationship between carefully enunciated melody and expansive silence.

There are seven vignettes, interspersed between longer, more overtly tuneful pieces, nearly all composed by Crispell. Merging like a suite, the mostly short compositions amass a mood of spiritual contemplation, aided by the acoustics of Auditorio Radio Svizzera, in Lugano, Switzerland, a regular home for ECM recordings over the years.

Crispell says that she deliberately set out to hold back, believing that it's more difficult to leave poignant spaces than to fill them with constant chatter. She employs varying ratios of composition and improvisation and as these vocabularies generally become ever more sophisticated, such natures have a tendency to become increasingly merged. Often, the vignette pieces are amongst the quietest. A visit to Sweden in 1992 made Crispell aware of the windswept solitude possibilities of non-American jazz. At other times, as with "Vignette III" and "VI," they involve a spidering flash of hyperactivity, all the more startling when set within an overall peacefulness. It's hard to avoid the word lyrical. "Vignette VII" has a deep resonance that co-exists with a harp-like high note shiver, whilst Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen's "Stilleweg" provides an atypically folksy romp.

The launch party for this disc at New York's Birdland in late April, 2008 found Crispell in a suitably restrained mood, setting out to replicate the sound of the album with a naturally commanding aura. Birdland is lately getting to be the home of exceedingly quiet music, with recent showings by Carla Bley and Regina Carter operating on a nearly all-acoustic level. Crispell went even further, making the audience conscious of every dinnertime munch, timing mastication to coincide with each vignette's progress.

Such is her authority that the audience was caught in a spell of complete concentration, with a jazz club rarely being such a temple of contemplation. Sometimes, the themes would edge toward the bland, or the pace would seem too slow, even for the serial meditator, but mostly Crispell managed to spread her fingers over the entire room, drawing in the crowd towards her private emotional realm.

Track Listing: Vignette I; Valse Triste; Cuida Tu Espiritu; Gathering Light; Vignette II; Vignette III; Vignette IV; Vignette V; Sweden; Once; Axis; Vignette VI; Vignette VII; Ballade; Time Past; Stilleweg; Little Song for My Father.

Personnel: Marilyn Crispell: piano.

Title: Vignettes | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ECM Records

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