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Marilyn Crispell Trio: Storyteller

Since the 1997 release of Nothing Ever Was, Anyway, a program comprised of songs by Annette Peacock, pianist-composer Marilyn Crispell has moved steadily into a realm of dark interior spaces and subtle, secretive ecstasies. Formerly (and still occasionally) a fire-breather of the Cecil Taylor school, the pianist has found a kind of spiritual resolution in quietude-a virtue handsomely captured on her last ECM trio record, Amaryllis. Now comes Storyteller: different bassist, same rarified air. Remarkably, given the strength of the previous two albums, Crispell has yet again raised the bar.

Two crucial changes help differentiate Storyteller from its most immediate precursor. The first is the substitution of Mark Helias for Gary Peacock, whose rapport with Crispell has always been profound. But Helias holds down the fort in more demonstrative fashion, resulting in a music that’s as earthy as it is exquisite. On an aptly titled “Play,” the bassist even nudges the trio toward a haltingly buoyant swing, a component that only lurked beneath the surface of Amaryllis. Helias also contributed two strong compositions to the album, the ecclesiastical “Limbo” and the seemingly harmolodic “Harmonic Line.”

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