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Paul Plimley/John Oswald/Marilyn Crispell/Cecil Taylor: Complicite

May of 2000 marked the 17th International Festival of New Music (FIMAV) in Victoriaville, Quebec. This recording memorializes it, presenting three performances of great intensity and diversity-despite the fact that all three are about free jazz, with the piano at center stage. Diversity in this music is about far more than dynamic level and velocity: though improvisation plays a critical role in each performance, composition before the moment makes its contribution to the emergent sound of the instant.

The bill on this May day got a boost from scheduling uncertainties with respect to Cecil Taylor’s appearance; to ensure a full evening of music, pianist Paul Plimley and alto saxophonist John Oswald made it down from a nearby engagement. Their set opens with an extended saxophone solo: Oswald’s vocabulary encompasses the full range of the instrument, from mellow tone to multiphonics, and uses a sort of stuttering, plosive phrasing to great effect. His range and Plimley’s are complementary, and the pair has obviously devoted plenty of time to understanding each other and their approach to music. Plimley is perhaps the most “traditional” of the pianists heard here, with his right hand taking a melodic role that leads into textural counterpoint with the left, and impressively fleet two-handed runs.

Marilyn Crispell charts a course for her audience that is more clearly defined than those of her compeers here. Her performance includes four compositions credited to others, integrated into an arc that takes us from a meditative opening state to one of ecstatic optimism at the end of her segmented “Triplos.” Crispell pursues a more affective muse than Taylor, with spaces in her playing that seem to carry a romantic resonance, a gentle invitation.

For all pianists in this field, Cecil Taylor is the progenitor and ultimate comparator. His technique remains astonishing, 40 years after he started breaking rules on record. As evidenced here, no one has better understood the percussive soul of the piano than Taylor, and his ability to create and reprise moving inner voices in the textural and harmonic density of his performances is unique. This captures Taylor at length and in brief, and in words as well-a sort of Beat Beckett rendering of a poem opens “Meaning,” evocative of the moment last year as his seemingly inexhaustible energy carries him in and out of the microphone’s range in the throes of his work.

Originally Published