Saturday, November 28, 2020

CD Review: Angelica Sanchez & Marilyn Crispell - How To Turn the Moon

Angelica Sanchez & Marilyn Crispell
How To Turn the Moon

When Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer released their two-piano album The Transitory Poems (2019), I had already heard some of the album performed live during Winter Jazz Fest. Onstage and on album, their interactions were deep and involved. But I never wrote about the album because, much as I liked it, I didn't know how to talk about it. No matter how I approached it, other than tried and true technical terms, I felt like I couldn't really express what was going on. (It's probably just me. Here's my review of that album, nearly two years later: You should really check it out.)

Like The Transitory PoemsHow To Turn the Moon features the same instruments - two sets of 88s, played by two creative pianists. Marilyn Crispell is a prolific soloist, leader of groups of various sizes and former member of other revered bands, the best known probably being Anthony Braxton's quartet. She has played with the velocity of Cecil Taylor but can also ring drama out of stark, gentle works as well. Comparatively, Angelica Sanchez is a newcomer, coming to New York from Arizona in the early '90s, but has made a strong impression with a number of albums of her own and with other artists. In addition to performing, she also lectures at Princeton University.  Crispell and Sanchez are equally as capable of creating rich, hard-to-summarize duets as Iyer and Taborn, but the descriptions flow a little easier music this time around.

Sanchez composed the pieces on How To Turn the Moon, save three improvisations for which both receive credit. In a telling example of their rapport, they explore vastly different moods in these spontaneous tracks, playing inside the piano on the strings ("Space Junk"), exploring a ballad-like feeling ("Windfall Light") and engaging in some more aggressive key stabbing ("Rain In Web"). 

Sanchez is panned to the left channel, and Crispell to the right, which brings clarity to the question of who plays what. But once the places are set, the performance becomes more about how Crispell and Sanchez become one in the music. In "Ceiba Portal" they alternate choruses, coming together to double the melody, with a coda building on a descending line that volleys between the two of them. "Calyces of Held" begins with Sanchez alone for a few minutes, before she switches to arpeggios that support Crispell's melody, then the latter goes it alone. By the end of this one, they're playing on top of one another, in the same range of the keyboard, but their lines never get in each other's way.

Much of the music has a cerebral feeling. Stark lines or chords reverberate, making way for the next one, which often creates melodies slowly and deliberately. It can be gentle music but a closer listen reveals connections between the sections that make a larger structure. Then when Sanchez and Crispell have us tuned in to their unique chemistry, the album closes with "Fires In Space" where they solo over an ostinato, the first time this more "straightforward" structure is used. It feels like an appropriate closer to their multi-faceted journey.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

CD Review: Mantic Trio - Neighborhood Changed Fast

Mantic Trio
Neighborhood Changed Fast

Mantic Trio is what happens when the drummer of '80s punks Negative Approach gets together with a jazz pianist-turned-songwriter and an improvising guitarist. Respectively, Chris Moore, Lee Feldman and Rob Price create 10 spontaneous tracks that span tranquility and bedlam, often morphing from one to the other often in the space of one track. The trio's album has drawn comparisons to the Butthole Surfers, Eno and Psychic TV. While these touchstones are not completely off base, their interactions as improvisors also recall the loose, anything-goes feeling of Australian improvisors the Necks with the Dirty Three's ragged beauty also coming to mind when the Mantic Trio comes together on an idea.

The latter comparison has a lot to do with the sound of Moore's drums. His kit is mixed like a rock kit, with a powerful low boom that doesn't come with jazz improvisation. When "Gangly" opens the album, Feldman's piano is caught in a "Tubular Bells" type of riff, until Moore explodes onto it, shattering any sense of eerie calm. Moore also drives the VU meters into the red during "Clipped," a title which describes Feldman's Cecil Taylor-esque attack. Price's guitar sounds a bit restrained on this one, which is good because when he does play, he's plenty loud. 

The 73-second title track is all chaos, with wailing feedback and crashing drums and a piano in there somewhere. Since the album was created from a marathon studio session, there was probably more where this came from, but the brevity works in the band's favor. Besides, it follows the 11-minute "Crest" which features a slow build of roaring piano and one-string guitar riffs with a sense of calm coming at the end. 

Throughout the album, the trio strikes a good balance between lyricism and frenzy. The quiet electric keyboard in the interlude "Mannerist" is shattered by Price's effects-heavy guitar in "Pesky Orbs" the next track, where it jousts with the piano. "That Club Spirit" begins with an industrial 4/4 pulse, and while a steady tempo is maintained, it ends up somewhere else by the end, evoking a pile of smoking speakers and splintered drum sticks. And that poor piano. 

One of the reasons Neighborhood Changed Fast works so well, aside from the way the edits create different tunes, relates to the way the trio never seems settles into musical styles or limitations. This could be a punk band or it could be an avant jazz group, or maybe a free prog group. But rather than decide themselves, they let the music make the decision.