Pianists Angelica Sanchez and Marilyn Crispell each have earned substantial fan bases for very different reasons. Crispell was one of the first women among the loft jazz pioneers of the 70s; Sanchez’s panorama of global influences is vast as her melodies are translucent. Stylistically speaking, you might think that a piano duo collaboration between the two would be a stretch. And that’s exactly what they do on their new album How to Turn the Moon, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s the first piano duo record for both artists, an intuitive. elegantly executed, largely improvisational effort. Crispell is at her most thoughtful and melodic while Sanchez reaches for a lingering, neoromantically-inspired 70s ECM sound. Sanchez is in the left channel, Crispell in the right on this generally very serious, often rather dark album.
There are a lot of tradeoffs and role reversals here. As the album goes along, the two begin to opt for more intertwine than the sharp dynamic contrast they work earlier on. The epic Ceiba Portal is a synthesis of all those devices, from a bracing, Mompou/Satie-like weave that builds to a steady, emphatically strolling overture of sorts, then a big crescendo to a final enigmatic fugue. The moody, spacious call-and-response and uneasy, starry Messiaenic tonalities of Sullivan’s Universe – a Sullivan Fortner shout-out, maybe? – has the same conversational disquiet.
There are a couple of surreal, suspenseful inside-the-piano pieces here. Ancient Dream has Crispell brushing the strings for lute-like phrases as Sanchez flits around, then Crispell takes to the keys, pensive and minimal. Space Junk is more mysterious, both pianists going to the lowest lows to conclude on a memorably murky note. By contrast, the harried quasi-boogie that closes Rain in Web is the album’s most aggressive interlude.
The exchanges of bell-like figures and purposeful, cascading variations in Calyces of Held rise and then return to moodiness, each pianist taking a solo turn. The more broodingly resonant Windfall Light becomes a platform for exploring that dynamic more darkly. Twisted Roots has more interweave, but also suspense, Crispell’s spare, blippy phrases echoing Sanchez’s solemn precision. The opening and closing numbers could have been left on the cutting room floor, but what’s in between them often brings out the best in both musicians.