Marilyn Crispell

Piano Duets

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This double-CD documents the meeting of two intuitive and frighteningly innovative musical minds (who both happen to play the same instrument) playing tuned and "detuned" pianos, one at a festival in 1991, and one at a piano factory in Germany. These duets are investigations into sonorities and tonalities that are accomplished during the act of duet improvisation. There are textures and rhythms possible only when one pianist is experiencing directly the tonal possibilities and harmonic registers in the act of responding to them. On the "tuned" set, there is so much of a musical meld, gentle competition, and sonic revelry, it's impossible to hear who is playing where; the feeling is one of confusion for the listener, but as comfort, there is a familiarity in the tones these improvisations take on. On disc one, each of the players is in a setting where they can hear themselves with familiarity; listening is an important element, but improvisatory know-how can rule the duel in a tough moment. On disc two, the "detuned" set, where the pianos are diagonally tuned -- "both pianos are tuned a quarter tone apart in their middle registers, while the lower and upper registers are stretched flat, respectively sharp, gradually, within the range of a minor second" (from the liner notes) -- no such thing is possible. Each musician is feeling his/her way through a new set of seemingly infinite tonal possibilities and equations that don't add up in the same manner. To add this kind of discovery onto a duet with a player in the same circumstances is either brave or stupid in a recording session. Pure musicality and instinct are the only components applicable with intense listening. There is the notion of dynamic, of course, but it would be too easy, too remedial to take that way out. What makes this recording so interesting to listen to is the "how" in each player's vocabulary that makes it work -- and most of the time it does very well. It may be excessive, but it's also a one of a kind document of a nearly hidden moment in musical history.

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