CD Review: Gary Peacock and Marilyn Crispell – Azure

Gary Peacock and Marilyn Crispell – Azure
(ECM records 370 8869. CD review by Geoff Winston)

Marilyn Crispell and Gary Peacock are very much kindred spirits. Even though they may inhabit slightly different areas of the jazz spectrum, they share the experiences of collaborating with many other leading players of the age as well as taking on lead roles in their own ensembles and recordings.

Peacock is probably best known as a member of Keith Jarrett’s evergreen trio, and his career takes in dates with Albert Ayler, George Russell, Archie Shepp and Bill Evans.

Crispell, on whom Cecil Taylor made a major impact in her approach to jazz piano, put in long spells with Anthony Braxton, has collaborated with Henry Grimes, and recently made acclaimed appearances at Vortex and Café Oto in Dalston. Crispell’s trio with Peacock and Paul Motian made two much-lauded albums on ECM, but this is the first recording made by the duo. Crispell commented, “[Gary] and I have played a lot of duo tours, and we’ve always wanted to document our partnership. … It was so great to finally have the chance to do it”. It is an album which is imbued with a sense of calm beauty, with a puckish overlay of sprightly movement and invention.

Patterns‘, the opening track, takes off with a leap and a bound. Crispell seems to skitter across stepping stones, with Peacock following in the same spirit, neither losing their footing for a moment. The pace drops to usher in the reflective mood of ‘Goodbye‘, a contemplative, armchair piece, and the more angular interplay of ‘Leapfrog‘, the first of three improvised duets, which Crispell says she particularly enjoyed. ” When [we] improvise together, there is a lot of trust and close listening, which is very special.”

The two individual solo improvisations show Peacock lightly stretching out with nimble finger work, reserved yet upbeat, and Crispell alternating rich chordal clusters with spiky runs and a frisson of classic jazz, as if to remind us that, for all her deviations from the mainstream, she still refers back to her jazz and classical roots.

Crispell’s composition, ‘Waltz after David M‘ has the feel of one of Jarrett’s trio pieces, constructed around a melody which sounds almost familiar, with which Peacock is perfectly at home in his careful soloing around its chordal structure and Crispell’s lingering phrasing. There are tiny sprinklings of folk melodies here and there, in the spacious title track, ‘Azure‘, and Peacock’s ‘The Lea‘, that present ideal opportunities to share and draw out bracing extemporisations.

These strands are picked up throughout the album with such thoughtful intelligence and deliberation, and with a modesty that belies the sophistication of the compositions and the variations that these two outstanding musicians bestow on them.

A recording that just invites return visits. Beautiful. 

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