Crispell/Peacock/Motian: Amaryllis (ECM 1742)

Amaryllis

Amaryllis

Marilyn Crispell piano
Gary Peacock bass
Paul Motian drums
Recorded February 2000 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher

With Nothing ever way, anyway, the trio of pianist Marilyn Crispell, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Paul Motian degaussed the sonic landscape. With this, its follow-up, the trio redefines itself. If in that debut Crispell proved the sonority of her craft as an improviser, here she proves the craft of her sonority. Whether evoking river’s flow or faucet’s drip, there is such palpable structure to her playing that one can almost live in it.

“Voice from the Past” gazes back to Gary Peacock’s 1982 album of the same name while also trudging forward in anticipation of what sigils it might inscribe by virtue of its fresh passage. Even the composer seems compelled to drown in his own creation, allowing Crispell’s porpoises to shake their bottlenoses in slow motion to the rhythm of Motian’s tide. Conversely, Peacock stands out in the pianist’s title track, which for all its prettiness cages a lonesome heart. There is a feeling of nature as entity, as if it were somehow able to brush away the veneer of our sadness and flow resolutely into its cause. “Requiem” is another dip into classic Peacock, this off his 1987 effort Guamba, again played here as if for the first time. Peacock takes the foreground as an artist grabs a paintbrush: which is to say, swiftly but respectfully. Yet even when composer and process sync with expectation, as they do also in “December Greenwings” (referencing 1979’s December Poems), Crispell is not to be overshadowed, for she brings a tree’s worth of blossoms into full view. As a melodic first responder, she unpacks Peacock’s compact phrases with obvious delight, and in her own “Rounds”—which connects the dots back to her 1983 album for Cadence, Spirit Music—she blankets our vision with flurries of brilliance. Strong as his drumming is in this track, Motian’s own compositional voice grabs even more attention in the trio’s slippery rendition of “Conception Vessel” (which titles his 1973 album) in conjunction with “Circle Dance.” The latter in particular elicits some of Crispell’s profoundest atmospheres, channeling Keith Jarrett at his most sacred. Motian’s “Morpion” solidifies the triangle by muscling its wide mane down connecting avenues of shine.

During sessions, producer Manfred Eicher further bid the musicians to improvise in the spirit of seeing what might take shape. Striking is how distinct the results are from their surroundings. “Voices” lays out a bed of bass and drums, one resonating and the other in a state of decay, and gives the piano an amorphous tree up which to climb. “Silence” is an album highlight, a real stunner that leaves us hanging from a branch of Zen-like irresolution. “M.E.” naturally pays tribute to Eicher, without whom it would not have taken shape and whose miraculous influence echoes through every touch of finger and brush, here and beyond. Another flask of inspiration drained and refilled to the last drop. “Avatar” is similarly gauze, fecund, and free. Pure magic, but with the bonus of “Prayer” (by clarinetist Mitchell Weiss) providing the final kiss to ensure the spell’s completion.

The most significant revelation of Amaryllis for ECM devotees is Crispell, who underscores the fortuitousness of having “crisp” in her surname with a string of performances that are exactly that. She is an expert at deep listening, and can provoke only the same in we who listen in turn.

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