“We brought some tunes to the session but the whole record ended up spontaneous and improvised. On a couple of pieces instead of piano Marilyn played an old beat-up piano soundboard wrenched out of an old baby grand several years before. We blew the dust off it and propped it a few feet off the floor, where it gave strange resonances as a giant percussion instrument. Marilyn said something about wanting to get away from the keyboard, more into the realm of pure sound.” David Rothenberg
“One Dark Night I Left My Silent House” (title borrowed from Peter Handke’s novel “In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus”) is a duo recording given to quiet dialogue and sensitive creation of new music. It is improvising unafraid to stray outside the borders of ‘jazz’.
Crispell and clarinettist David Rothenberg have played concerts together (initially in trio with multi-instrumentalist Richard Nunns) since 2004, but the sound of Marilyn’s playing had been in Rothenberg’s mind much longer. Their first encounter had been distinctly unorthodox.
Rothenberg: “I first met Marilyn Crispell while I was asleep. Under a piano. It was at Karl Berger’s Creative Music Studio sometime in the early eighties. I woke up in the morning under the piano and heard this amazing music right over my head, and I sat silently and let the pianist go on. All I could see were her bare feet on the pedals. After a while she got up and walked away, and I saw her long flowing brown hair as she disappeared in silence... I never forgot those sounds, the intensity, the fluidity like a rushing waterfall. Over the years I followed her music and always wanted to hear more...
“We talked about doing this recording for several years, but we didn’t plan it out. Marilyn really doesn’t like to practice, perhaps because improvisation is best when the first, sudden encounters are recorded.” The album was finally recorded in March 2008 in Nevassa Studio in Woodstock. “We didn’t much discuss what we would do at this point,” says Rothenberg. “I know that in general I’m always thinking about how to balance the lyrical and the free, how to come out of some tradition but try to sound like something never heard before. It’s an easy conceit yet nearly impossible to realize. Two artists associated with ECM whom I once studied with helped me in this regard: from Jimmy Giuffre I learned to never be satisfied with my tone, that it could always be more resonant, always better conditioned with a pillow of air. From Joe Maneri I learned to smile, to laugh while trying anything daring and strange.”
“One Dark Night...” is Rothenberg’s debut for this label; an earlier release, “Whale Music” included contributions from two ECM aligned violinists, Nils Økland and Michelle Makarski. Amongst his other recordings is “Bangalore Wild”, a collaboration with the Karnataka College Of Percussion.
Rothenberg is also well-known as a philosopher/naturalist and the author of a number of books on man’s relationship to nature. His books include “Why Birds Sing”, on making music with birds, also published in England, Italy, Spain, Taiwan, China, Korea, and Germany. It was turned into a feature length BBC TV documentary. His most recent book, “Thousand Mile Song”, is on making music with whales. Other books include “Sudden Music”, “Blue Cliff Record”, “Hand’s End” and “Always the Mountains”. “Why Birds Sing” is available from Basic Books in the USA, Penguin in the UK, Springer in Germany, and Ponte alle Grazie in Italy. “Thousand Mile Song” is published by Basic Books in the USA and the UK.
Marilyn Crispell’s stated goal, in playing fixed pieces or improvisations, is to play music “only from the heart“ and to rule out any habitual or stylized expression. Some press commentators have remarked on stylistic differences between Crispell’s work for ECM and her earlier music. She touches on this in a recent issue (April 2010) of US magazine Chronogram. “I wouldn’t so much say that my style has changed over the years; more that it’s just opened up. I’ve always been more comfortable in the right half of my brain, which I guess is why I got into improvising in the first place. But to me the energy music I did earlier and the quieter stuff I’ve been doing lately are equally intense. They’re just two sides of the same coin.”
A graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music where she studied classical piano and composition, Crispell has been a resident of Woodstock, New York since 1977 when she came to study and teach at the Creative Music Studio. She discovered jazz through the music of John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor and other contemporary jazz players and composers. For ten years she was a member of the Anthony Braxton Quartet and the Reggie Workman Ensemble and has been a member of the Barry Guy New Orchestra and guest with his London Jazz Composers Orchestra, as well as a member of the Henry Grimes Trio. Besides working as a soloist and leader of her own groups, Crispell has performed and recorded extensively with well-known players on the American and international jazz scene. She's also performed and recorded music by contemporary composers Robert Cogan, Pozzi Escot, John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Manfred Niehaus and Anthony Davis (including performances of his opera "X" with the New York City Opera).
Crispell‘s ECM debut of “Nothing ever was, anyway”, a double album of Annette Peacock’s music, was very well received, collecting an album of the year prize in France, Jazzman’s ‘Choc de l’année 1997’. It was followed by two more trio discs – “Amaryllis” (recorded in 2000), and ”Storyteller” (recorded 2003). Crispell also appeared on Anders Jormin’s song cycle “In winds, in light” (recorded 2003), alongside singer Lena Willemark. In 2007, she recorded the solo album “Vignettes”. As Graham Lock wrote in International Piano: “With ‘Vignettes’, her first solo release for ECM, Marilyn Crispell ventures further into the fleeting, fragmentary lyricism that has become her principal creative focus in recent years. The ‘delicacy’ and ‘inner space’ she cited as crucial elements on her previous trio recordings for the label are accentuated here… This is also a tensile, tough-minded music, its stark abstraction as challenging as it is alluring.”