Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 30 March 1947, Philadelphia PA) Piano, composer. She studied at New England Conservatory, Boston and at Creative Music Studio, Woodstock. She was deeply influenced by John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor; it was after listening to Coltrane's A Love Supreme c.1975 that she began to become a musician of 'prodigious talent, power, acuity' (Graham Lock). Much more recently, another pianist said to Taylor, 'I wish I could play my own music.' Taylor said, 'How many lives do you think you have to do it in?' and advised listening to Crispell. Her important musical association with Anthony Braxton can be heard on his Composition 98 '81 on hat Art, Six Compositions '84 on Black Saint, Vancouver Duets on Music and Arts and Anthony Braxton Quartet (London) 1985 on Leo, with Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway on bass and percussion. She also played with Billy Bang mid-'80s (her Spirit Music '81 on Cadence and Live In Berlin '82 are quartets with Bang).

Her own albums are on Leo except as noted: solo sets include Rhythms Hung In Undrawn Sky '83, For Coltrane '93, Live In San Francisco '89 and Live At Mills College 1995 (the last two on Music and Arts); in a trio format she has recorded with Dresser and Hemingway (The Kitchen Concerts '89), Reggie Workman and Paul Motian (Live In Zurich '89), Workman and Hemingway (Trio On Tour '93, Music and Arts), and Fred Anderson on tenor sax and drummer Hamid Drake at the Women in the New Music Festival in Chicago '94 (Destiny '94, on Occa Disc). (Hemingway played in trio Bass Drum Bone's Wooferlo on Soul Note, with Mark Helias on bass, Ray Anderson on 'bone, and made quartet/quintet albums on hat Hut; Dresser's debut as a leader was Force Green '94 on Soul Note, quintet including voice.) She also played with the Reggie Workman Ensemble on Synthesis '86. Marilyn Crispell And George Graewe Piano Duets is a two-CD set, one disc using tuned and one detuned pianos. In 1994, she recorded a concerto specially written for her by Manfred Niehaus, Stellar Pulsations, but many consider her finest work to be a hymn to the planet, Gaia '87, with Workman and Doug James. Human Flowers on CIMP (Cadence's new label) was yet another trio, led by Bobby Zankel (alto sax, composer), with Newman Baker on drums.

An intensely dramatic and passionate player, Crispell is also an ideal sideperson, always engaging the lines of the others yet never self-effacing; she is also becoming one of the best-documented musicians of her generation: duo Inference with Tim Berne on alto sax, trios Hyperion (with Peter Brötzmann and Hamid Drake), Cascades with bassist Barry Guy and Hemingway '92-3 all appeared on Music and Arts, as did solo sets The Woodstock Concert and Contrasts: Live At Yoshi's, both '95. MGM Trio '94-5 on Ramboy has Hemingway (on marimba and steel pan as well as drums) and Michael Moore on clarinet (and composing); trio Any Terrain Tumultuous '95 is on Redtoucan with clarinettist François Houle; Natives And Aliens '96 on Leo a quartet with Guy, Evan Parker and Paul Lytton on drums, recorded in London; Connecting Spirits '96 on Music and Arts a duo with Joseph Jarman, recorded in Madison WI. She guested on Three Pieces For Orchestra '95 by the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, directed by Guy, and played on Steve Lacy's sextet album Five Facings '96 on FMP. Nothing Ever Was, Anyway: Music of Annette Peacock '96 on ECM was a trio with Paul Motian and Gary Peacock, with one vocal by composer Annette: the two-CD set saw Crispell exploring an important body of work not her own and serving it with almost self-effacing maturity.

Her solo album Vignettes on ECM 2008 was a beautiful, intimate set of soulful impressions; her third trio set under Guy's leadership with Lytton was Phases of the Night on Intakt, Guy's pieces taken from the titles of surrealist paintings.