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.

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