[JPL] A Quartet Announces Itself With a Visit to the Borderline

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 23 19:06:41 EDT 2006

October 23, 2006
Music Review | Marilyn Crispell
A Quartet Announces Itself With a Visit to the
Starting in the late 1970’s, the pianist Marilyn
Crispell played free jazz — the real thing, hot,
gestural, abstract. But in the last 10 years she has
become more and more valuable as a borderline player,
a bridge between free jazz and its more structured
original sources; she has broadened and settled her
music, and it is giving her many more options. 

Saturday night at Miller Theater, she showed how
widely her circle has been redrawn, giving her first
performance with a quartet that included the tenor
saxophonist Joe Lovano, the bassist Mark Helias and
the drummer Paul Motian. Ms. Crispell has worked in a
trio with Mr. Helias and Mr. Motian before — they made
a beautiful record two years ago called “Storyteller”
— but it was her first time playing with Mr. Lovano.

It’s a powerful group of musicians, and during the
evening every member was represented as a composer as
well. After two hours, they had made a strong case for
themselves; it seems almost necessary that they
persist as a band.

They demonstrated some of the great potential of
inside-outside jazz — music that sometimes doesn’t
have a clearly stated pulse, that jumps between
dissonance and holding firm to key centers, that can
expand and contract as it needs. At root, borderline
is nothing new; it’s been an unnameable underground
river in jazz since the early 60’s. Yet it forms a
tradition and a valuable one, especially when played
at this high level, with such a feeling for pulse and

A lot of Ms. Crispell’s early Cecil Taylor influence
has burned off, and what’s much more audible now is
McCoy Tyner. Listening to her was at times like
hearing a much younger Mr. Tyner, as he sounded toward
the end of his time in John Coltrane’s quartet:
strong, resonant left-hand chords guiding the tonality
in a mode, and powerfully rhythmic phrases in the
right hand — but with a more flexible sense of time
than he prefers now (or, in fact, did then). 

The tacit connection to Tyner and Coltrane reached its
peak in the last piece of the concert, Coltrane’s
ballad “Dear Lord.” It’s a song that Ms. Crispell has
played a lot over the years, and the band got into its
marrow. Mr. Lovano’s tone and projection stayed
moderate as he blew billowy, note-stuffed phrases
across the chords. And Mr. Motian, almost eerily,
seemed to fuse the styles of Coltrane’s two great
drummers; he played some deep Elvin Jones swing, then
some Rashied Ali-like wave-spreading patterns, phrases
that didn’t conform to regular time. He did it with
his usual economy of motion, keeping to limited
sections of the kit. 

As a closer, it was fantastic, a state of grace, and
the gig, in two sets, moved gradually uphill toward
it. The first piece, Ms. Crispell’s new “Lines for
Joe,” sounded aggressive, unresolved, a little
caustic. The concert proceeded through music by Mr.
Lovano (“Topsy Turvy” and “Boss Town”) and Mr. Helias
(“Limbo” and a poignant, elegant ballad called “The
Harmonic Line”), as well as a half-dozen pithy songs
by Mr. Motian, all of them using nubby melodies to
configure the rhythm.

Some of Ms. Crispell’s own pieces opened up the
concert. One of them, a mellifluous 20-bar ballad
called “One December,” could almost have passed as a
Hollywood theme from the 40’s. Then the set turned
hard into another springy Motian song, powered by
short, springy lines.

Taken as a whole, the concert compounded some of the
widely varied promises of the last 50 years of jazz —
formal elegance and hardboiled abstraction, swing
rhythm and free rhythm — and it made sense together.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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