With their shared passion for austere lyricism and melodic invention, piano masters Angelica Sanchez and Marilyn Crispell are ideal duet partners. Their meeting of like minds recalls both recent piano duet albums like Kris Davis and Craig Taborn’s Octopus and older ones like An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea: In Concert. Instead of searching for middle ground on each tune, the pianists use their commonalities as a basis for immediate improvisational flights.
Sanchez has been on the New York scene for more than 25 years, and during that time she’s worked with Paul Motian, Wadada Leo Smith, and Nicole Mitchell. Her contributions to Chad Taylor’s 2009 album Circle Down make it one of the most compelling postmillennial piano/bass/drums recordings. Crispell has made an indelible mark via her work with the classic Anthony Braxton Quartet, but lately she’s produced stellar music in intimate settings led by Joe Lovano and in duet with Tyshawn Sorey.
With 10 originals checking in at only 50 minutes, How to Turn the Moon is concise, at times to the point of terse. Both pianists are skilled at making big points quickly; the joy in this recording comes not from a duel of virtuosic expositions but from the insightful ways each builds on the other’s innovations. There’s a variety of intriguing emotional perspectives, from the puckish “Fires in Space” to the ruminative “Ancient Dream” and the magisterial yet playful “Celba Portal.” Similarly, the compositions (mostly by Sanchez) have a range of inspirations. “Calyces of Held” is named for the largest synapse in the central nervous system and “Lobe of the Fly” takes its cues from the drawings of neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, while “Sullivan’s Universe” is named for the work of folk artist Patrick Sullivan.