The first live show in the weeklong fling features one of jazz's most powerful and lyrical improviser/composers, Marilyn Crispell. None other than avant-garde pioneer Anthony Braxton, who collaborated with Crispell in his legendary quartet of the '80s, has said, "After Cecil Taylor, she's the strongest pianist that I know of."
A fine batch of recent albums by Crispell supports Braxton's position. Released last year, Selected Works 1983-1986 highlights Crispell's virtuosity in solo, duo, and quartet settings. Indebted to Taylor's fist-over-fist locomotion, Crispell's early performances are fierce in their improvisational energy, while also being elegant in harmonic development and melodic clarity. Since then, Crispell has spotlighted her radiant introspective side with the critically acclaimed trio effort Amaryllis and the beauty and breadth of her solo work with the three-CD Complicité. The latter, which also includes full discs by Taylor and pianist Paul Plimley, erases any notion of gender-based shortcoming.
Another world-class improviser who also happens to be a woman, Kali Z. Fasteau appears sans genderized fanfare at this year's Glenn Spearman Music Festival, a grass-roots effort to honor the late Oakland saxophonist. A globe-trotting multi-instrumentalist -- on soprano saxophone, nai (a Moroccan reed flute), sheng (a Chinese mouth organ), and other winds -- Fasteau performs with an acute ear for nuance and a tuneful feel for color. Since Fasteau began as a free-jazz groundbreaker in the late '60s, her work has evolved into an inclusive type of improvised world-music that knows no bounds of race, creed, or gender. The S.F. Jazz Festival -- and other high-profile events -- would be wise to take note.