Connie Crothers Quartet
MUSIC IS A PLACE
Connie Crothers, piano
1. Helen's Tune
Reviews of music is a place:
They may have started as members of the Lennie Tristano school of jazz, but the members of this highly evolved and polished quartet, as much a collective as the band of pianist Crothers, has ventured far beyond the tenets of Tristano. They take liberties with time, tone, tempo, dynamics and attack that would horrify more orthodox Tristanoites. The lesson they do take to heart is the valuable one of perseverance, of the importance of playing their music as often as possible, or, as Crothers says, "I put a ton of time behind everything I do . . . I spend time with music. It's a joy! Never work."
The results of all that time are evident in the exquisite interplay of this quartet, where a solo is rarely just one musician out front, the others accompanying, but rather an intricate cat's-cradle minuet of what they may call free improvisation but may better be described as fluidly flexible improvisation. The music here, from alto sax (Richard Tabnik) and piano-unison head lines to elastic tempos and drum (Roger Mancuso) and bass (Ratzo Harris) solos accompanied by upfront piano chords and clusters, is never bereft of strong narrative form. The form varies from piece to piece, but is always more elaborate than the standard jazz head-solos-head norm. And neither Tabnik nor Crothers, the main voices, structure solos or dialogues in the usual postbop harmonic-medodic language. They find alternatives that incorporate tradition and avant-garde, and a wide range of dynamics that make every track a sonic adventure.
When she speaks of her work as a pianist, Connie Crothers speaks quite clearly: "It´s all about finding the deepest way to express that deeper level, which is feeling. I think that´s the real function of music in our world". Her new quartet, formed five years ago, which performs regularly in the clubs of New York and USA, features alto saxophonist Richard Tabnik, with whom she has been playing for 25 years, and drummer, Roger Mancuso, with whom she has been associated for 35 years. The new arrival, so to speak, is bassist Ratzo Harris.
This is a band that has been honed in the finest details, running on intuition without ever losing the thread through the most impassioned improvisations. They embody a true group identity with a precise and unmistakable sound, yet each one of them is a strongly individual musician, like Richard Tabnik, one of the most original (if not the most original) alto saxophonists on the mainstream contemporary scene. Perfect solos within the flow imposed by the group - brilliant and always in tune with the requirements of collective improvisation.
With the exception of Ratzo Harris, the musicians were all students of Lennie Tristano, and this artistic heritage can be heard in the improvised lines and in the rhythmic originality of their entire concept. The aesthetic that Connie Crothers has sought to develop with this quartet functions excellently, in that it has succeeded in combining harmonic and rhythmic complexity with fluid execution and overwhelming solos and piano/sax lines that have yet to be comprehended (and which will certainly eventually form a new school in music). In the multiform scene of contemporary mainstream, Music is a Place is among the most individual albums: a response to standardization and to those who seek consolidated forms of expression.
SIGNAL TO NOISE
For anyone with a well-developed relationship with modern jazz there is likely to be a split between its mythic and quotidian dimensions, between the music as it might have first been perceived and the way it is heard after years of listening. That modern jazz that first s trikes the imagination is both random and organized, chaotic but unified. Coded, yes, but it does not surrender the code easily. It is the entrance to another world. (It might be the music we imagine Jackson Pollock hearing in New York bars 60 years ago, but that wasn’t modern jazz at all: it was the contrapuntal traditional jazz of the imagination).
It is a modern jazz that I long for, that I know I’ve heard, but it’s dimmed by too much knowledge of too many details, just as the current “mainstream” modern is murdered by its text book solutions, its pained historicism, or else its ambitions to be “concert music,” another level of commodity. By contrast, that mythical modern jazz would appear to the ear as continuously developing harmony rather than the reiteration of a popular song’s pattern. That modern jazz I want, which is almost entirely telepathic, still has codes beyond my reach, while it attains a kind of perfect abstraction and collectivism, voices independently creating lines that somehow entwine and comment on one another. One imagines the underlying pattern disappearing afterward, indivisible from the creation of the piece.
Now that’s a music I hardly ever hope to hear because it repeats not a music but an innocence of ear that should be beyond me. But I hear it in the music of the Connie Crothers Quartet which manages to balance traditional patterns and free improvisation in a way that is mysterious, magical and brilliant, in a way that clearly advances the Tristano/ Konitz/ Marsh school of linear abstraction without in anyway repeating it. Crothers is a stunning pianist, and the sudden traceries of “New York in the Blue Hour” would alone suffice to make her one of the most interesting (and somehow natural) pianists in jazz, her chordings a loose physical movement in which the fingers are part of a continuum rather than mere independent mechanism. There is a shared state of musical mind that unites Crothers with altoist Richard Tabnik (stunningly speech-like, like Coleman or Konitz, but it’s his own speech; his upper-register chatter demands a hearing), bassist Ratzo Harris (a darting intelligence) and drummer Roger Mancuso (creating a streetscape of multiple exchanges), an intimacy so highly developed that you can turn to the back tray liner and expect a single composer only to find four, and vice versa.
Music is a Place is work of continuous invention and dialogue, of shifting voices and echoes of blues and bop and sudden solo extrapolations; it’s music that always feels as organized as bop, but it also sounds as loose as the best free jazz. There’s a dream-like quality to this music where anxious combinations of sound suddenly find the right concordances and take wing or repose. It’s absolutely masterful group dialogue.
Selected by Stuart Broomer for inclusion in his list of the ben best recordings of 2007, www.jazzhouse.com
Music Is A Place
With Music Is A Place pianist Connie Crothers has created an enduring work, a crystallization and clarification of her musical aesthetic. Featuring longtime colleagues Richard Tabnik (alto) and Roger Mancuso (drums) along with veteran bassist Ratzo Harris, the disc contains a set of originals that explore the interzone between pre- and free composition, a mix of straight-up swing rhythms, blues inflections, cool-school instrumental timbres and emotional reserve, along with a predilection for controlled chaos. The accent here is on compatibility and democratic interplay. Crothers and Mancuso, in particular, are highly simpatico; their dialogues sound like the culmination of many previous conversations, unplanned yet well prepared for in the course of their ongoing relationship. Mancuso plays out of a swing bag but within these limitations his concept is extremely creative, mixing it up even as he implies a firm rhythmic foundation. Harris combines fluid legato articulations with a robust sound. Tabnik is a highly original altoist, his style ranging from calm geometric precision to violent meteorological storms; one of his best moments is an inspired solo during “Carol's Dream” that stems from the jazz tree but grafts fresh fruit to the limb.
Tabnik and Crothers' unison melodies are uncanny, tightly integrated yet creating the illusion of free improv; a few of the “tunes,” notably “You're the One” and “Carol's Dream,” sound as if they were created off-the-cuff. The comping by various group members is often so active that it blurs the roles of soloist and accompanist. Music Is A Place is a wonderfully elastic combination of groupthink and individuality, constraint and freedom, probability and possibility.
Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter
Bruce L. Gallanter