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Avant-garde pianist Marilyn Crispell performs at Timucua Arts White House

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Avant-garde pianist Marilyn Crispell performs at Timucua Arts White House


Marilyn Crispell possesses a penetrating musical vision. A Guggenheim fellow, classically trained in piano and composition, she is known for having been the piano player in multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton’s quartet for many years and for her innovative free-jazz performances.

On Monday evening The Civic Minded Five presented the talented jazz pianist at downtown Orlando’s Timucua White House. The performance was an exploration of the possibilities of music, dallying between free-form atonality and bewitching melodic passages, always displaying a superb dynamism from the 66 year-old innovator.

“The pianist has a career based on an adventurous sense of discovery and an honest reaction to the temperament of experience as she continues to compose, perform and record,” writes Matt Gorney in The Civic Minded Five’s blog. That venturesome spirit permeated the Timucua house – very crowded for this special event – all through her nearly half-hour solo piano opening performance.

Crispell has an incredible talent for progressing fluently from stark dissonance, nearly devoid of a tonal center, to more tonic-balanced passages that offset the raggedness of the former. She can aggressively emerge from the low register of the piano, using series of adjacent notes that fall acridly on top of each other, and gradually arrive at triadic flourishes. Her playing is sometimes abstract, sometimes extravagant, but always beautiful, in its own twisted way.

Technically, Crispell is sharp and precise; she effortlessly creates highly rhythmic patterns and smooth runs up the keyboard. The multi-layered improvisation progressed with no breaks, culminating in a songlike romanticism reminiscent of Liszt.

For the second half, Crispell was joined by the 10-piece ACA Ensemble, heavy on saxophones, trumpet and percussion, but also featuring electric guitar and electronics. Sitting at the keyboard, Crispell conducted and played piano on ‘Corridor.’ The experimental piece digs into both extremes of dynamics. Its rough contours and groundwork give way to several sax solos and an impressive trumpet solo.

It wasn’t long before Crispell’s ‘adventurous sense of discovery’ reached cacophony, with saxophones and trumpet blaring out loud, over two percussion batteries. Crispell’s unsettling piano segued into an extremely subdued saxophone monotone, ending the piece in an aftermath of peace.

Short but sweet, the performance – an Atlantic Center for the Arts outreach event – was easily one of the most insightful and musically exploratory held at Timucua.

To visit Marilyn Crispell’s website, click here.

To learn about upcoming performances at the Timucua White House, click here.

To visit the website of The Civic Minded Five, click here.

To visit the website of the Accidental Music Festival – bringing similar avant-garde acts to Orlando – click here.