Marilyn Crispell

Live at Mills College, 1995

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Though Crispell has been recording since the 1980s, it was this set, a 59-minute concert at Mills College, that drew her finally into her own spotlight as both a composer and as a pianist. The evidence supporting that Crispell is neither "Anthony Braxton's pianist," or merely a "Cecil Taylor devotee" is ample. Of the five compositions featured in this concert, the medley of "As Our Tongues Lap Up the Burning Air/Song for Abdullah/Apart" tells the story best. Crispell reveals a tonal language that includes a nearly staggering harmonic range and the timbral studies to match. Her tonal clusters are reined and freed by her ricocheting hands turning rhythmic constructs into dust and erecting new dynamics from old textural ideas. Her two hands are so busy, corralling the polytonal atmospheres she erects, that the listener can become literally dizzied by their effect. In one moment we can hear traces of Mary Lou Williams or Taylor, but in the next the long obligatos of Bill Evans and the ostinato of Annette Peacock can be heard whispering along the keyboard. All the while, an absolutely devastating crescendo is being constructed one beat at a time and is showered down in cascades of ringing, splintering notes to shattering effect: the effect of harmonic invention as it relates to musical wholeness. And that's what Crispell does here, and has the effect of doing where she plays: she presents a refracted vision of our fragmented musical landscape and heals it through the exploration of sonic architectures both complex and mysterious. In a word, she's awesome.

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