BARRY GUY/MARILYN CRISPELL/PAUL LYTTON

Ithaca
Intakt CD 096

More of a rethinking of the spatial and dominant arrangements of a piano trio by bassist Barry Guy than a follow up to this threesome’s first CD, ITHACA gives him ample scope to outline new strategies with which to subvert the most traditional of improv groupings.

It’s no overtly radical response, but it’s done differently than how pianist Marilyn Crispell, percussionist Paul Lytton and Guy approached ODYSSEY (Intakt CD 070). Unlike that session, this disc contains no miniaturization of London Jazz Composers Orchestra themes, and almost no references to any genre outside of Free Music. Additionally, Crispell, who has a tendency towards classical delicacy – an inclination expressed on ODYSSEY and other CDs – becomes a vigorous note chopper this time out. Nine out of the 11 compositions – including three miniature shards – are Guy’s. The other two are instant compositions to which all three contribute.

Almost from the first time her fingers make contact with the keyboard on “Fire and Ice”, the inaugural tune, Crispell is digging deep within the bowls of the piano, exercising the copper-wrapped lowest 32 notes, then sweeping arpeggios across the middle and top registers. In response Lytton strokes offbeat clusters of concussive notes, while Guy contributes adagio patterning with ponticello squeaks. A hitherto unexpected link from the pianist to Lennie Tristanto is unveiled here. As she pounds her key clusters with an extra resonation, the bassist’s string swipes become denser and more complex, as the drummer’s pressured bounces add to the claustrophobic feeling. Rappelling guitar-like strums from Guy that echo within the bass’s wood grain serve as a coda.

Leaving aside “Klaglied”, a piece that features the three exploring the bassist’s variations on the theme by the 17th century Danish composer Diderik Buxtehude, as a normative restful coda, the vigor and invention remain in force from the first all the way to “Zig Zag”, the penultimate Guy composition.

Fervid dynamics delivered with high frequency vibrations by the pianist cause determined syncopation to reverberate within the soundboard, key frame and balanced tension. With Guy shuffle bowing and Lytton rattling and bouncing cross-handed, Crispell peals up the keys to treble notes, scattering patterns as she goes.

Unselected cymbal sounds give the accompaniment a fricative and concussive timbre, as does sul ponticello arco work from the bass. Faster and looser, the pianist’s angular patterns amplify every note to its vibrations and nodes, helped by adroit pedal movement. Adjusting the development for a nocturne of single-note romanticism helped by buzzing acro tones and plucks just below the tuning pegs from Guy, Crispell revs up again to speedy, dissonant action in the final three minutes. Using high-frequency, key-clipped notes with plenty of stamina, she draws out sawed bull fiddle notes and rattling cymbal, snare and tom responses from the other two.

Throughout the other tracks each of the trio members gets to strut her or his stuff. It could be resounding string yanks or rubbing harmonic pattering with the bow that exposes both the root notes and their overtones from Guy. Or it could be Lytton exposing textures that alternately resemble bicycle bell pings, shaken and scattered chains, bond paper being crumpled or finger cymbal resonation that simulate ceremonial tones at a Tibetan monastery. Or it could be Crispell strumming arpeggios in the piano’s bottom quadrant, ramming out cross-toned dynamics with a touch of atonalism, and exposing an overload of notes that spill across bar lines.

Continuity is on tap as well as friction though, as on “Broken Silence”. Here flat handed note attacks from Crispell and refuse strewing drum top patterns from Lytton make room for circular piano movements that turn to tractable counterpoint. Bisected by silences, the tempered melody is augmented with adagio arco string oscillations from Guy.

As a composer and soloist, Guy has redefined double bass playing and writing for larger improvising groups. Assembling the knowledge he has of the formation going back to his early days in pianist Howard Riley trio, here the bassist capitalizes on the skills of Crispell and Lytton to redefine the piano trio his own way as well.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Fire and Ice 2. Void (for Doris) 3. First Shard 4. Broken Silence 5. Second Shard 6. Ithaca 7. Zinc 8. Third Shard 9. Unfolding 10. Zig Zag 11. Klaglied

Personnel: Marilyn Crispell (piano); Barry Guy (bass); Paul Lytton (percussion)