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Marilyn Crispell: Selected Works 1983-1986

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Some of Crispell’s earlier steps are retraced on this Golden Years double CD, which collects together her first three LPs on the Leo label: the solo Rhythms Hung in Undrawn Sky (1983), And Your Ivory Voice Sings, a duo with percussionist Doug James (1985), and Quartet Improvisations, Paris 1986, with bassist Marcio Mattos, cellist Didier Petit and drummer Yovas Mincemacher. Rhythms has some nice moments (“Love,” “Song for Abdullah”), though Crispell can seem a touch garrulous at times and her later solo recordings show a more astute use of space and structure. The Paris concert comprises a single, continuous set, totally improvised, that by accident resembles concerto form. An opening of jostling statements and solos gives way to a brief yet effective slow section before Crispell’s leaping phrases spark a scintillating finale.

The real gem here is And Your Ivory Voice Sings, which exemplifies Crispell’s statement that “I love to play against rhythms, to play strong rhythms of my own against a strong rhythm.” James makes an ideal rhythm partner, adept, responsive yet robust where necessary; it’s a real shame he’s recorded so infrequently. Highlights are the homages to Crispell’s two main inspirations: the title track is a dashing celebration of Cecil Taylor’s speed and precision, while her loving treatment of Coltrane’s “After the Rain,” which evokes both the storm itself and the tremulous calm before and after, remains a tour de force of rapt, focused intensity.