Sanchez & Crispell Turn the Moon

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HOW TO TURN THE MOON / SANCHEZ: Lobe of the Fly. Ancient Dream. Calyces of Held. Ceiba Portal. Twisted Roots. Sullivan’s Universe. Fires in Space. SANCHEZ-CRISPELL: Space Junk. Windfall Light. Rain in Web / Angelica Sanchez (left channel), Marilyn Crispell (right channel), pno / Pyroclastic Records, no number

This album, scheduled for release on October 2, features female pianists Angelica Sanchez and Marilyn Crispell playing free jazz on two pianos. Crispell, a generation older than Sanchez, has played with such legends as Paul Motian, Anthony Braxton and Gary Peacock as well as making several albums on her own. Sanchez has issued several albums as part of a duo, trio, quartet and quintet. This is their first recording together. Sanchez is quoted in the notes as saying that Crispell’s compositions are “complex and interesting, a kaleidoscope of colors and ideas,” yet ironically it is Sanchez who wrote most of the pieces on this new CD.

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Crispell & Sanchez, photo by Bradley Bambarger

The music contained herein, though clearly modern jazz, is not all free-form. On the contrary, Lobe of the Fly has a form and shape. The modernity stems from their shared love of unusual, moving harmonies, on which each piece is based, and they use the harmony as a launching-pad for highly inventive improvisations that really do go “off the beaten path.” Their music reminded me a bit of Lennie Tristano at his most adventurous and experimental.

With that being said, Ancient Dream is a very experimental piece in which the two pianists play the inside strings of their instruments, creating a sound akin to that of avant-garde jazz harpsichords. In this one, it is the rhythm that ties the piece together; melodically and harmonically, they are both really “out there.” Later on in the track they play more conventionally, creating a lovely melodic line. Calyces of Held uses single-note lines in an interesting, complex fashion, eventually creating polyphony between the two artists, and Space Junk, a collaborative effort, is mostly ambient sound except for some light tinkling by Sanchez through the left channel. Ceiba Portal returns us to more lyrical terrain, again mostly in single notes.

As the duo proceeds through the album, it is almost as if they were opening different doors to different moods, colors and shapes—a sound museum, you might say. Nothing is taboo, and although both pianists clearly understand musical structure they are not above taking risks in order to expand the listener’s range of experience, and for that I applaud them. The opening of Windfall Light, for instance, slow and atmospheric, almost has the feel of a modern classical piece, while Rain in Web, a collaborative piece, takes one into ever-denser structures from which there is no escape. In the last track, Fires in Space, the duo actually get involved in a Latin rhythm though the top line stays within a fairly narrow range while the chunky harmonies become denser, leading to polyphonic bass lines and other such devices.

This is clearly a fascinating and excellent album that will repay your relistening to each and every track!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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