All of the major digital music outlets seem to believe the title of Marilyn Crispell’s excellent 1995 album The Woodstock Concert to be Crispell: Woodstock Concert (1995) The. It’s a clean-sweep Internet misnomer, from the controversial streaming services (they of the $.0045 royalty checks) to the withering institution that is iTunes to every chintzy e-store façade fronting the same audio warehouse.
Data-entry errors like this are commonplace and viral in the digital marketplace, especially in the low-lying commercial regions inhabited by free jazz and…you know, my band, which was similarly victimized. Once introduced, these careless and possibly bot-crafted errors replicate like…something digital, until they are beyond easy correction, unless you or your management can get someone at Lastfm or Emusic on the phones that they don’t actually have. The switchboards are lighting up, but it’s a stock image.
This particular title scramble, however, may provoke a chuckle in anyone familiar with Crispell’s fractalized piano playing and the hash that this legendary avant-gardist makes of the conventional syntax of jazz. Crispell: Woodstock Concert (1995) The is actually a pretty tenable album name (a little staid, even) for a performer who rose to prominence accompanying Anthony Braxton, the experimental reed player/composer famous for his symbolic, non-ASCII song titles and his alternative notation systems.
Crispell is a genuine heavy in the free-jazz tradition of Braxton and of her obvious role model, the action pianist Cecil Taylor. Some people, including many defensive musicians, are wont to dismiss the entire genre as little more than seizures and the slapping of a black-and-white table. But you need listen – really listen – to no more than a few minutes of The Woodstock Concert or any of Crispell’s other solo or collaborative recordings (she gravitates toward spacious, exploratory duo projects when not performing solo) to know that there is an awful lot of music in Marilyn Crispell’s music.
The off-the-grid forms, the liberated harmony, the extreme dynamics and the utter disregard for resolution-driven melody make for challenging listening, but once you focus on what it is rather than what it isn’t – once you have your John Cage moment of acceptance and the defeat of expectation – don’t be surprised if you find yourself digging the wit, color, feeling and spontaneous form-making of Crispell’s playing, even if you can’t in good conscience claim to understand it.
A bona fide hero of some bona fide underground American music, Marilyn Crispell performs two solo sets at the Colony Café – let’s call it Crispell: Woodstock Concert (2014) The – on Tuesday, December 30 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $15. For tickets or for more information, visit www.colonycafewoodstock.com. The Colony Café is located at 22 Rock City Road in Woodstock.
Marilyn Crispell, Tuesday, December 30, 8 p.m., $15, Colony Café, 22 Rock City Road, Woodstock.