Marilyn Crispell

Overlapping Hands: Eight Segments

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This duet adds truckloads of weight to the feminist argument that feminine innovation has largely been ignored in the world of jazz in general and improvised music in particular (the latter is truly weird when one considers just how many women from Mary Lou Williams to Joëlle Léandre to Lauren Newton to Linda Sharrock to Lindsay Cooper to Julie Tippetts to Marilyn Crispell and Irène Schweizer have played key roles in the music). Ms. Crispell and Ms. Schweizer are innovators and highly individualized stylists who acknowledge both Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor as influences (Taylor, by the way, acknowledged Mary Lou Williams as one of his); Ms. Schweizer also cites Dollar Brand and McCoy Tyner. Given the stature of these two players, it's a wonder they didn't appear together before this. No matter. What occurs here is perhaps the most unified improvised duet of any on record since Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons in 1939. Recorded in 1990, it still holds true as an off the cuff record, one made just yesterday while you were sitting there listening with your mouth open. The "segments" (as they are referred to in the title) are different types of improvisation, different explorations not only for the two musicians encountering one another, but also in their encounters with the piano. The most obvious is the rhythmic component that takes place throughout but is highlighted most in the first: Ms. Schweizer, like Monk, is a very rhythmic player, stridently seeking out lines and tempos that suit the physicality of her sense of time and beat. Ms. Crispell, given her place in Anthony Braxton's quartet with a rhythm section that included drummer Gerry Hemingway and bassist Mark Dresser, has always -- by her own admission -- moved against rhythm, riding herd over it in some cases, and through the middle of its force in others. So at times this feels like a dueling percussion session. But there is so much more. Both women are inventive and intuitive counterpoint players and run that notion through a very challenging set of modes here. Another place is Schweizer's love of ragtime and blues; she places long lines of early jazz -- some right from Lil Hardin's piano book -- into the heart of Crispell's aggressive chromatics, creating another kind of counterpoint, one that fills in all the dots. And finally, in other places, there is a union of intuitive tonal and modal engagement suggesting this set was rehearsed (it wasn't). At the end of the set, one is left exhausted and breathless, satisfied and literally amazed. There is only one problem: There isn't another record to play after this.

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