Review: Marilyn Crispell, Harrison Smith, Eddie Prévost. Café Oto, 7th November 2012

Marilyn Crispell and Harrison Smith
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

Marilyn Crispell, Harrison Smith, Eddie Prévost
(Café Oto, 7 November 2012; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Drummer/percussionist Eddie Prévost has recorded with both the Philly-born pianist Marilyn Crispell and with fellow Brit saxophonist Harry Smith; but this four-date tour to Austria and the UK was the first occasion on which Smith and Crispell have ever shared a stage. The new combination produced a trio with perfect balance, exquisite expression, ingrained technical excellence, and flowing extemporisations of great clarity. No stars then, just a finely-honed communication, the push and pull of conversation, a rich blending of the players’ extensive vocabularies.

Smith’s started the gig by patiently waiting for the audience to quieten down, then to focus on a silence followed by two notes separated by another silence. Prévost kicked in with a flutter of the brushes and Crispell chose a chord to complete the introductions.

Smith, perhaps the least known of the trio, proved to be a hugely accomplished and articulate reedsman, and something of a revelation. There was a sense of complete absorption of the lessons of the masters – Rollins, Coltrane and Joe Henderson, a hero of his – in his brightly flowing, yet formidably intense and robust phrasing on tenor.

Prévost, more familiar to Cafe Oto habitués for his Cardew-oriented adventures in improvised percussive sound pulled out all the jazz stops and showed his roots as a consummate straight drummer, with finesse, precision and sensitivity, the two sides of his repertoire overlapping with grace and style. Intended as a compliment, the comment was heard, ‘why isn’t he playing at Ronnie’s?’

Marilyn Crispell
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

Crispell contributed lightly ethereal and thoughtfully deliberate passages and underpinned a moving, melancholy duet with Smith with a calm strength. Smith responded to Prévost’s interjection of pace with an intricately phrased, richly expressive solo, and Prévost hammered out in fiery, modulated form, chipping the hi-hat with the energy of Elvin Jones writ large.

Crispell’s warm keyboard strolls floated with lyrical intent. The trio’s one nod to the standards, Every Time We Say Goodbye, flitted in and out of range with delightful brevity. Crispell countered with a passage of symphonic dimensions before reaching in to the piano’s body for an intensely hushed duet with Prévost, which had Smith following up on bass clarinet to bring it lightly back to earth.

The congenial setting of Cafe Oto suited this remarkable combination rather well. The concert was recorded for BBC’s ‘Jazz on 3’ next year. Perhaps the trio can also be persuaded to make a return visit!

Marilyn Crispell – piano
Eddie Prévost – percussion, drums
Harrison Smith – tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet

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