Marilyn Crispell

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Piano genius Marilyn Crispell teams for a set of duets with the relatively unknown -- though outrageously talented -- Sicilian saxophonist and clarinetist Stefano Maltese. This is an interesting mirror in and of itself. Way back in 1989, Anthony Braxton, one of Crispell's contemporary mentors, recorded an album of duets with the pianist, who, at that time, was relatively unknown -- though she was the steady rhythmic force propelling the longest last quartet, or any other band, of Braxton's career. This set is approached from the position of opposites attracting. Maltese has been deeply influenced by the phrasing and lyrical construction -- no matter which horn he plays -- by Steve Lacy. On the soprano, it is almost impossible to tell them apart, with the exception of Lacy's slightly longer line. Crispell, who plays percussively, was at the disadvantage here, or so it seemed. These duets are such a departure for her, her playing moves into a range of colors and emotions not usually associated with her. Her approach to counterpoint and harmonic invention here are both lyrical, favoring dynamic, to be experienced by persistence and caution rather than by forcing the music to bend to her will. Here, she is clearly its servant, which coaxes Maltese to look toward overtones as a way to engage the improvisation from within. The compositions are divided equally among them. Maltese provides a reasonable foil for Crispell. She, on the other hand, must have viewed him musically in a much different light because this is her most restrained, graceful, elegant improvising on record. There isn't a moment here that is not, while musically very sophisticated, emotionally very moving. Highly recommended.

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