Marilyn Crispell Trio - "Storyteller", ECM

I'll admit, I love a great ballad record. BUT! [There had to be a but!] I'm not sure whether I like "Storyteller" quite yet. Marilyn Crispell's third effort for ECM is as wilting and quiet as her other two. She set out to record another trio record - this time with bassist Mark Helias and the ever-trusted percussionist Paul Motian - and basically reached her goal. But is just reaching a goal what sets apart a great record from just a good one? For fans of the "old" Marilyn Crispell [those who know her from her glory days of Leo Records projects], "Storyteller" will most likely be a sad disappointment from the start. There are no crescendos, no climaxes and no resolutions. Rather, the record maintains an even, slow pace that never really picks up, even for one moment. Marilyn's playing is now more lyrical, more poetic, and definitely much more subdued. Subtlety is now her middle name. Mark Helias and Paul Motion both provide a nice background for her playing, but that's just about it. It's just "nice". There are no surprises in store here, and I guess that's my biggest disappointment with the project. I want and need to be surprised when I listen to a new record, especially a new Marilyn Crispell record. Well, maybe there is one surprise here, which is that Marilyn is now even better than in the past at investigating the underlying tension in a more reflective manner. I don't think it's fair to blame Marilyn for the change of direction toward a softer, more lyrical side. She must have known what metamorphosis her music would undergo when she signed a record deal with ECM four years ago. Manfred Eicher's imprint is heard all over this project. With that said, since Marilyn's personality doesn't get a chance to shine here, I think "Storyteller" has failed me. The good news is that for those who love a nice jazz ballad in front of the fireplace, this record definitely delivers the goods.

Tom Sekowski

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