Marilyn Crispell / Doug James / Reggie Workman


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Gaia. According to Webster's: The earth personified as a goddess mother; mother of Uranus, Mother Earth. This trio date by pianist Marliyn Crispell (who also plays harp here), bassist/percussionist Reggie Workman, and drummer/percussionist Doug James can only be heard as both an invocation to and a celebration of that same goddess. One performance recorded in Woodstock in 1987 is spliced over five tracks. The set begins slowly, whispering spare ideas from Crispell which in turn are furthered immediately by Workman. James joins in and the cacophony begins in earnest. Crispell charges in with a flurry of minor sevenths and eighths. For James, the drums themselves don't fill the bill so he resorts to bells, whistles, and everything else he can get his hands on. This recording is split into five selections, and yet the listener feels as if it is one long work edited down for the CD. It suffers for that as well. While it's true that all of these musicians are among the highest caliber, something is lost among them; it's as if they are learning how to play together for the first time. James is clearly lost through most of this; he can't seem to take cues from Workman quickly enough. Crispell pounds out her frustrations with more extended chords than she has perhaps ever played on record. When the tension gets to be too great, somebody solos, or Workman breaks out his bow to bring a dynamic closure to a dramatic segment. In the last nine minutes of the piece, James goes for a two-handed one-two-three-four; he does this repeatedly as if to find his way. Crispell responds in the only way she can, with more chords and a flurry of energy that does what it can to bridge the huge gaps between the players here. Unfortunately, it's not enough. Gaia is too fragmented to be marketed as a single work, its editing is sloppy and incoherent, and the improvising here -- by a trio that would later stun live audiences with its empathy and near telepathic communication -- is too stilted and rudimentary. As painful as it may be to view Gaia in this manner, the recording is for fans only and not a suitable introduction to any member of this trio.

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