Table of Changes
Having spent a decade together in Anthony Braxton’s quartet during the ‘80s and ’90s — and having first worked as a duo 20 years ago — pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Gerry Hemingway are more than familiar with each another’s playing. And on the live album, Table of Changes, which was recorded in Austria, France and the Netherlands during 2013, their unmistakable comfort level spurs some of their most creative improvising. On the eerily beautiful “Windy City,” for instance, Crispell’s lyrically coherent, restless solo meshes perfectly with Hemingway’s unique vocabulary of unusual textures and melodic rhythms. “Waterwisp” is a tone painting of quiet tintinnabulations from Hemingway’s vibes and Crispell’s piano notes falling like water droplets.
Crispell is a superb musical storyteller. Her solo on “Night Passing” moves from anxious unresolved lines into subtly voiced chords, and from energized arabesques into bright notes that lighten the mood but never cloy. On the title track, she alternates chiming phrases colored by nuanced chords and sinewy bass-register lines. The collisions and transformations of the two parts create a dramatic tension that carries the performance forward.
Hemingway is a master orchestrator of the drum kit. Perhaps that’s why he works so well with the piano, the most orchestral of instruments. On “Roofless,” he coaxes an amazing variety of timbres from his cymbals that contrast with the sharp raps and dull thumps of his snare and toms. The drummer’s off-balance note placement on “Assembly” generates a push-pull rhythmic tension with Crispell, while his continuous movement around his kit provides melodic counterpoint. This is avant-garde jazz that achieves an Astaire-Rogers gracefulness and intimacy. —Ed Hazell