Marilyn Crispell and Jacob Young’s Enchanting Qualities

Marilyn Crispell -   Vignettes
Marilyn Crispell – Vignettes
Marilyn Crispell – Vignettes (ECM/Universal, 2008)

Jacob Young – Sideways (ECM/Universal, 2008)

Veteran jazz pianist Marilyn Crispell has released a solo effort, Vignettes–a combination of sensitively and fine tuned composed material and improvisational pieces. I prefer the composed pieces which Crispell brings a palette of emotions ranging from deeply melancholic to glittering transcendental. I am sure that improvisational piano work is a lot of fun for the pianist with quick on-the-spot playing and free access to the range of the keyboard, but my ears do not enjoy listening to dissonant passages.

So I will focus on the composed pieces for this review because Crispell paints vivid sonorous landscapes. In the press notes, the pianist mentions the various events in her life that reflect in her music from reading a book about Chinese five-element acupuncture theory, "which suggested that in times of chaos and transition you shouldn’t force change, but rather get to a quiet place where you can allow transformation…" to a visit to Scandinavia in the 1992 where she was introduced to Nordic jazz and folk music.While I am not an expert on Nordic jazz, I have heard some artists that I have greatly enjoyed. Nordic musicians in general combine modern sounds with a strong melody, not just within the jazz realm, but even in modern interpretations of traditional music. Crispell’s fingers delicately grace the keys on "Sweden," one of the lighter pieces on the album. Her mood is somewhat heavier on "Valse Triste" and "Cuida Tu Espìritu" which seamlessly flow into one another.

Although Crispell is not an Impressionist, her playing at times recalls the enchanting qualities of Debussy and Ravel; some of her playing also recalls the sad aloofness of Satie. In the press notes, "lyrical" often appears to describe Crispell’s repertoire and the word "luminous" also appears. These words definitely describe the songs already mentioned as well as, the piece "Once," which I believe is the loveliest track on the CD, (the happy-go-lucky "Stilleweg" also deserves this honor).

For those who enjoy the music of Anat Fort (also on ECM), Nordic jazz and jazz piano that falls on the moodier side, will enjoy Marilyn Crispell’s "Vignettes. She has also released three trio releases, (Nothing Ever Was, Anyway, Amaryllis and Storyteller) on ECM.

Jacob Young -   Sideways
Jacob Young – Sideways
Already garnering steaming hot reviews, Norwegian-American guitarist Jacob Young releases his second ECM album, Sideways  (a follow-up to Evening Falls). Young who plays electric and acoustic guitars, is joined by trumpeter Mathias Eick, sax/clarinet player Vidar Johansen, double-bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Jon Christensen rounding out three generations of players.

The titular track starts out with samba-like classical guitar while Mathias Eick’s trumpet adds steam to the lush track. The musicians weave a tapestry that is more than the sum of its parts–alchemy ignites throughout this recording. The following track, "Time Rebel" features sensual trumpet playing by Eick recalls the work of New Orleans trumpeter Terrance Blanchard–since both musicians ooze their emotions through their horns.

The momentum that the musicians build on "Near South End" reminds me of the sun pushing its way through the clouds. The various instruments work harmoniously together and reflect a peaceful and folk-tinged atmosphere. Perhaps this is one of those Scandinavian jazz elements shining through. And here again, we hear some gorgeous, shimmering trumpet along with steady double bass, drum and acoustic guitar. The wonderful aspect of this album as a whole is the tight unit the musicians form and the intuitive musical conversation heard throughout. This recording appears to be more about unity than solos in the spotlight. And when there are solos, you can still feel the presence of the other musicians, not anticipating their turn in the spotlight, but adding musical paint to the group canvas.

Jacob Young’s Sideways would make a lovely companion to music by Swedish vocalist, Lena Willemark (who is equally at home in the jazz and traditional folk worlds), and Finnish composer and accordionist Maria Kalaniemi‘s music. I am reminded of a sedate and cool Miles Davis, and a more recent performer, Terrance Blanchard as mentioned earlier. It’s no wonder then, that music journalist have already poured so many accolades into this hot and steamy cup of brew. It taste good no matter the listeners preference of genres.

Patricia Herlevi hosts the healing music blog, The Whole Music Experience and the community radio show, Global Heartthrob at KSVR-Mount Vernon in Washington State. Her play lists can be found at

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