MARILYN CRISPELL

Amaryllis
ECM 1742 440 013 400-2

This album, named after a flower that grows in winter, is like a precious hothouse blossom compared to the unruly wild weeds that make up much of the rest of pianist Marilyn Crispell's discography.

Usually thought of as an unreconstructed free jazz player, this trio disc seems designed to allow her to get in touch with her inner Keith Jarrett or Bill Evans. No surprise there, because singly or together, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian worked in the rhythm section of both those influential keyboard specialists.

Beautifully recorded and well played, there's still something vaguely unsettling about this CD. While Crispell has introduced lyrical passages in her other sessions, nowhere else has she recorded an entire album which confines her tunes to such monochromic tones and tempos. Furthermore, each of the 12 numbers clocks in at between a little more than three, to a little more than six, minutes. That too seems excessively restrictive for someone who, in other CDs featuring the likes of reedists Anthony Braxton and Evan Parker, percussionist Eddie Prévost and longtime confrere drummer Gerry Hemingway, could let her imagination flow freely for at least twice or three times that length.

Not that there's anything wrong with self-editing. After all, Dizzy Gillespie once said it took him years to learn what to leave out in a solo. It's just that the three Peacock originals and four each by Crispell and Motian, plus one by her Woodstock, N.Y. neighbor Mitchell Weiss, operate so similarly, that they seem to resemble on another as closely as do a set of identical siblings.

Only on her "Rounds" and the drummer's "Morpion" — both of which may have been improvised in the studio — do the performances move from being studied and deliberate to something a bit freer. The pace actually accelerates on the former, which also appears to definitely have an ending rather than just fade like some other tunes. The later proves that Crispell can use parts of the keyboard neglected in other tunes. And that seemingly causes Motian to get so inspired that he knocks out a few press rolls.

Strangely enough, the only other composition that is animated and with a sort of child-like air is Peacock's "Requiem". It's also one of the few times he asserts himself, and shows off some of the deep, dark technique that made him an in-demand sideman for everyone from Albert Ayler to Jarrett and Evans.

As for the rest, the music on nearly every track sounds like it was an effort to create, as if it was ore mined from the ground with great difficulty. Within individual tracks, moreover, each performer's phrases seem to be oh-so-deliberately measured out in single notes — one teaspoon at a time.

Crispell is probably happy with this session that reunited her with two venerated musicians from an earlier generation. She may even feel that recording an entire CD of tunes that sound like nightclub ballads proves her straight jazz legitimacy. And the disc itself may even attract a new audience of the Jarrett-Evans school who revels in this type of music. If so, it will have served its purpose.

Overall, though, it appears that the entire program would have been stronger had she included some compositions which allowed her to develop her ideas at greater length and which unrolled at quicker tempos.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing 1. Voice from the past 2. Amaryllis 3. Requiem 4. Conception Vessel/Circle Dance 5. Voices 6. December Greenwings 7. Silence 8. M.E. 9. Rounds 10. Avatar 11. Morpion 12. Prayer

Personnel: Marilyn Crispell (piano); Gary Peacock (bass); Paul Motian (drums)