Marilyn Lerner | Ken Filiano | Lou Grassi | Arms Spread Wide | No Business Records

Marilyn Lerner – piano | Ken Filiano – bass | Lou Grassi – drums & percussion

Tracks :  1. Wild Analysis 6’22” | 2. Nightwings 5’24” | 3. The Eternal Present 10’24” |  4. The Dance Within The Game 3’48” | 5. Skies Spin Round 9’36” | 6. Hommage a’ Coco Schulmann* 7’52” | 7. Samphire 6’31” | 8. World of Shades 2’44” | 9. Arms Spread Wide 9’34” | 10. Skitterbug 2’16”

This record has been made possible by generous support of UAB “Garsu pasaulis”. NoBusiness Records NBCD 5, 2009, edition of 1000 cd’s * All compositions by Marilyn Lerner (Socan), Ken Filiano (Flizmo Music BMI) and Lou Grassi (Elgee Publishing BMI). * * Coco Schumann is a Jewish German jazz guitarist who survived the Nazi’s. In his autobiography Der Ghetto-Swinger : Eine Jazzlegende Erzahlt Schulmann he says: “Once a man learns to swing, he can never march again.” * Recorded February 20, 2008 at Acoustic Recording Studios, Brooklyn, NY. Sound engineer: Michael Brorby. * Mixed and Mastered April 10, 2008 at Park West Studios, Brooklyn, NY. Engineer: Jim Clouse. * Design by Oskaras Anosovas. * Executive producer – Danas Mikailionis. * Co-producer – Valerij Anosov.

Let us introduce a new recording of a great piano trio with Marilyn Lerner on the piano, Ken Filiano on the bass and Lou Grassi on drums. The group bravely took up the double challenge of facing the great tradition of the piano trio within a totally free context. Enjoy this wonderful recording!

Marilyn Lerner | Ken Filiano | Lou Grassi | Arms Spread Wide | no business records

Liner Notes for “Arms Spread Wide”

Who needs another piano trio recording?!

In recent years we have had a plethora, a myriad, some might even say a surfeit of recordings of this most “classic” of all jazz group formats. We’ve had it all, from virtuoso piano with “rhythm” to the most intricate interplay of three equal partners, the latter a fruit of the innovations instigated by the legendary Bill Evans Trio around 1960. (In order to counterbalance the fully deserved preponderance of Evans/LaFaro/Motian in this context, mention should be made of a remarkable, one-off recording made by that quiet revolutionary, that incessant explorer of sounds unknown, that singular yet underappreciated piano stylist, that universal musical genius, Duke Ellington, on September 17, 1962 in the unlikely company of the unruly, stunning virtuoso Charles Mingus and the deceptively quiet, yet unpredictable percussion master Max Roach. The resulting “Money Jungle” is one of the unsung masterpieces of piano trio playing beyond category.)

So,why this recording?

Just above I wrote that “we’ve had it all.” Or have we? In fact, one rarely traveled road within the piano trio realm of the past 50 years has been the one of completely free improvisation. Quite possibly, the “classic” status of this particular configuration might have worked as a deterrent. However, the three valiant souls on this most exciting recording were not to be intimidated. Instead, they bravely took up the double challenge of facing the great tradition of the piano trio within a totally free context.

I have always been a reluctant writer of liner notes because I am convinced that it is impossible to talk about music itself. We can merely hope to articulate our perceptions and feelings regarding this divine art. In addition, I am not at all sure if the people who listen to the music on this CD, that is, listeners familiar with the complexities and intricacies of free improvised music, really need or really want liner notes. So all this writer can hope for is to find some generous soul out there willing to devote a few minutes of precious time to reading, and ideally sharing, some necessarily subjective impressions.

From the word go, “Wild Analysis” inexorably draws the listener right into the middle of things, avoiding the all-too-frequently encountered pitfalls of a lot of free improvisation: No tentative groping about in the dark here! Instead, we get instant, vigorous, and true interaction, not mere articulation, a sure sign of three past masters at play, and a strong, daring opening statement.

“Nightwings” conjures up nocturnal sounds and visions, with Marilyn exploring the inside of the piano and Ken providing a yearning counterpoint.

“The Eternal Present” exerts a strong onward momentum within a very free framework, the music never losing its footing, its sense of direction and purpose. No mean feat! Here, Marilyn displays the same admirable qualities as her eminent compatriot, Paul Bley, who always knows where he is going, no matter how free the context is. And listen to Lou swinging his ass off without reverting to a straight 4/4!

“The Dance Within” is an exploration of subtlety, of minimalist shading, a study in pianissimo, a celebration of the beauty of acoustically created sounds, the lyrical highlight of the CD. Listen to Marilyn’s crystalline, lambent, limpid tone, Ken’s supple bass and Lou’s light-as-a-feather percussion.

For me, “Skies Spin Round” is the nodal point of the disk, with all its different strands gravitating towards this spinning, revolving centre. Ostinatos develop into vamps that are drawn into a dizzying, hypnotic vortex. Amazing how clearly structured this wild spin is, with Marilyn, Ken, and Lou all strongly contributing to producing instant composition as opposed to an arbitrary free for all.

Coco Schulmann, a Jewish-German jazz guitarist who survived the Nazis, says it all in his autobiography Der Ghetto-Swinger. Eine Jazzlegende erzählt: “Once a man learns to swing, he can never march again.” The same goes for the players in this trio, including the lady!

“Samphire” is a tasty pickle of slowly building tension, with tangy sonorities echoing off each other. The brief, quiet piano/bass duo of “World of Shades” is the calm before the storm, leading up to the tempest of the penultimate track, with every one of the participants spreading their arms wide to embrace and respond to the others’ ideas and thoughts. A prime example of reception and masterful, split-second response, this track is also a veritable tour de force of enormous, almost unbearable tension. After this emotionally draining yet bracing experience, “The Skitterbug” is a marvelously quirky, laconic postlude that leaves you wanting more.

When Lou sent me the CD master, I was going through a personally very difficult time, and it is my sincere desire to extend Lou’s wish to me to everyone listening to this wonderfully egoless yet coll ectively immensely powerful music: “It’s my wish that you not only “like” the music but that it serves the higher purpose of soothing your spirit.” Amen to that.

So, who needs another piano trio recording? We do. Most emphatically. This one. Enjoy! by Werner Merz / merzMUSIK Aidlingen / Germany, April 23rd, 2009, werner.merzATwebDOTde

Marilyn Lerner | Ken Filiano | Lou Grassi | Arms Spread Wide | no business records

I am catching up with a release from 2009

that I am glad to hear repeatedly. It’s an avant piano trio date recorded in 2008 for a No Business (NBCD 5) CD, Arms Spread Wide. The band is an excellent one: Marilyn Lerner at the piano, Ken Filiano, contrabass, and Lou Grassi at the drums.

All three players are inextricably intertwined in a very musical dialog. Ms. Lerner is an imaginative improviser who has listened to Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley and made her own way through those stylistic influences. Ken Filiano and Lou Grassi are well known and so need no introduction. They sound especially good here with Ms. Lerner. Lou’s freetime is superb and mightily inventive; Ken is rhythmically and melodically alive in the best sense; both work with Marilyn to create long strands of improvised coherence and excitement.

It has connection with the roots of the music and yet it soars far and wide in its collective intelligence. That’s a pretty good way to go! This one needs to be heard. — Grego Applegate Edwards


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2 thoughts on “Marilyn Lerner | Ken Filiano | Lou Grassi | Arms Spread Wide | No Business Records

  1. Canadian pianist Marilyn Lerner has garnered a name for herself as one of the most diverse and exciting pianists to emerge in the last ten years. Best known among her releases is a series of albums with the co-op Queen Mab Trio, with violist Ig Henneman and clarinetist Lori Friedman. But also included in her discography are several albums based around Jewish music, a duo set with guitarist Sonny Greenwich, and a number of piano trio releases, all drawing on both improvisation and composition.

    Arms Spread Wide may be the first time Lerner has recorded with bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Lou Grassi, but they sound like a seasoned trio. Compositional credits going to all three players suggests that the music is pure improvisation. The musicians seem to know each other well, can suss out each others’ intentions, and take the music in different directions, comfortable that the others will respond.

    These ten pieces, varying in length from two to ten minutes, have a focus and concision to them that seem to define the term “spontaneous composition.” Lerner’s piano, while drawing from the Cecil Taylor end of the piano continuum, has its own unique kinetic energy. While her piano is the focus of attention, Filiano and Grassi are always in there, feeding ideas and providing options for group explorations. Lerner may propose an introductory idea, but the bassist and drummer follow closely behind, strongly establishing the music’s direction. The implied 3/4 on Lerner’s solo intro to “The Eternal Present” is instantly picked up by Filiano, while Grassi covers a wide swath with a cymbal pulse and snare accents—almost sounding like Sunny Murray—as the track eventually opens wide into an energetic three way improv.

    “Nightwing” is at the opposite end of the spectrum, dwelling on prepared piano, bass and small percussion; each gesture subtle, yet moving the music slowly and inevitably forward. On the balladic “The Dance Within The Game,” Filiano’s tensile bass lines provide the grounding Lerner needs for her fleeting, delicate lines, as Grassi colors the backdrop with small percussion. “Hommage A Coco Schulmann” is dedicated to a German guitarist who was imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II, but who was released and subsequently enjoyed a fruitful post-war career. The liner notes have this quote from his autobiography: “Once a man learns to swing, he can never march again,” and the trio does the quote justice by launching into a swinging, freely improvised piece.

    Lerner has found a pair of enormously simpatico players in Filiano and Grassi. They cover a wide terrain and are not boxed in by the limiting specificities of labels like “free jazz” and “piano trio” With Arms Spread Wide one of Lerner’s strongest releases, and one of the best piano trio discs released in some time, hopefully this group stays together and continues making music this vital.

  2. The piano trio is a receptacle for triteness and idée fixe, we all know that. There’s no stylish virtuosity able to defeat the sickly taste of a frazzled standard or the exhaustion elicited by an unconvincing improvisation. Luckily, there are also types of three-headed ensembles where waywardness and lucidity seem to reach an ideal balance. Arms Spread Wide is an example of how things should more or less be done in similar instances. Pianist Lerner – a first meeting for yours truly – sounds animated by a sort of rational fire which permits her to flick various switches during the pieces, a style characterized by precious restraint and thorough intelligibility even in the most spirited segments. She’s finely complemented by bassist Ken Filiano, who – apart from the sections in which succinctness is optional – quite systematically plays lines in which instinctive melodicism is compensated by a tendency to attentively watch the unfolding of events in order to look for an accurate insertion at the due moment. Lou Grassi’s drumming is reassuringly scheme-free, effusive when the time is right, polished and heterodox in equal doses, minimizing the inclination to pointless anarchy everywhere. Ranging across tense dissonance and striking lyricism (“World Of Shades”, a splendid duo between arco bass and piano, comes to mind), this record – though not an epochal milestone – thrusts aside routine for its large part, which is a success in itself.

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