Two Pianos, Kindred Spirits: Angelica Sanchez & Marilyn Crispell

A series favorite, pianist Angelica Sanchez has performed many times for Sound It Out at Greenwich House, including the debut of her duo with fellow keyboard artist Marilyn Crispell. They released an album of Angie’s two-piano compositions via Kris Davis’s Pyroclastic label this fall. These are the liner notes that I wrote for this lovely record, How To Turn the Moon.

Two Pianos, Kindred Spirits

Two pianos sounding in tandem can feel – given that the instrument belongs to the percussion family – like a kind of 176-key gamelan, an atmospheric orchestra ringing and resonating and radiating in unity. In that way, the music of How To Turn the Moon by pianists Angelica Sanchez and Marilyn Crispell vibrates with a special, luminous quality. In composing all the pieces for this album, Angelica was inspired by Marilyn’s ever-questing sound and sensibility, as well as the uncommon rapport they share as players and as people.

“I’ve always kept in mind that it’s not so much the instruments that make the music – it’s the people in the room,” Angelica says. “Marilyn and I each get different sounds out of the piano, and those sounds exist first in our heads. It can be tricky with two pianos to make sure there is enough space in the music, but she and I complement one another, naturally. Marilyn is a generous, thoughtful person, in music as in life.” Marilyn adds: “I have such love and respect for Angie. Her compositions are complex and interesting, a kaleidoscope of colors and ideas. It was a fascinating challenge to figure out together how to convey them best.”

Marilyn has made many beautifully probing records as a leader over the years, including a sequence of albums for ECM highlighted by Nothing Ever Was Anyway: Music of Annette Peacock, a trio classic with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian. She has also collaborated with key figures from Anthony Braxton to Tyshawn Sorey. Angelica, a generation younger, has released a multifarious array of albums as a leader, from solo, duo and trio to quartet and quintet and, soon, an all-star nonet. A keen collaborator herself, she has worked closely with the likes of Wadada Leo Smith and Michael Formanek, among others.

It was after Angelica and Marilyn met a few years ago at Karl Berger’s Creative Music Studio workshop in Woodstock, New York, that the pair developed the friendship that moved Angelica to write a set of music for them to perform together. These mysterious, often deeply lyrical duo pieces tend to be relatively brief on the page, with the composer leaving room for expansive improvisation as the mood strikes. She says: “Each piece is designed to be different every time we play it.”

In the studio, the two pianists set up at their instruments facing each other, with Angelica appearing in the right stereo channel and Marilyn in the left. As to what influenced how the pieces came to life on that particular day, Angelica says: “The light through the window, the dog on the couch. The little universes that Marilyn and I created in the moment. The love all around.”

Bradley Bambarger