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Connie Crothers, piano
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“TranceFormation in Concert” was named a Downbeat Critics Poll Best Vocal CD selection!
One of the real pleasures of the last decade in improvised music has been the increased documentation of the superb Connie Crothers. One of her most enduring and empathetic partnerships is with the extraordinary contrabassist Ken Filiano. Here, on a release pairing a couple of live shots from Korzo and the Stone, they're joined by the imaginative and resourceful Andrea Wolper. The combination of spoken words and free improvisation is a deal-breaker for some fans, but it's hard to imagine folks not being taken by this vocalist who operates somewhere in a territory between Jeanne Lee and Maggie Nicols. She's playful, musing, and has careful attention to phrasing that balances out her sonic range. I was on board as soon as she began halting posing questions about diminishing understandings and perspectivalism in the thick of the dark shapes and brilliantine chords of “The Same Moon.” The music on these tracks is relentlessly moving and imaginative, with Crothers and Filiano so in tune with each other that they're able to create all manner of shade and mystery when accompanying actual lyrics, and construct wondrously strange architecture when all three are deep into pure sound. On the slashing “When Souls,” for example, Wolper trills and coos and ululates as Crothers pounds out clear, forceful lines against groaning arco. On “The Fifth Stone,” Wolper creates some Galas-like moments of intensity, while on the quirky “The Things You See in New York City” the music is as jittery and overwhelmed as the city it's dedicated to. Some of the best moments come deep into the disc. “Whale Song” is enchantingly sparse and crystalline, but its closing minutes shift unexpectedly into a rush of heady, disorienting, pinwheeling motion. Filiano's robust and animated playing on “Lines” seems like it's the fuel animating Wolper's high-flying lines, which at times pause in flight to twirl downward into some kind of incantation. And I was knocked out by the marvelous piano clouds and mewling vocals on “Love Within a Time of Turbulence.” Come to think of it, that title might be a fitting byline for what this trio's all about.
By Jason Bivins, Cadence Magazine
"A scintillating demonstration of the art of improvisation--never becoming so abstract that the audience is left behind, they stretch the expected boundaries of the vocal-bass-piano trio line-up yet remain anchored to the soul of jazz. It is an exhilarating sonic image of where jazz is located today and hints at the possible routes it might take tomorrow."
By Bruce Crowther, jazzmostly.com
50 years after it became a topic of public interest and controversy, many still have the wrong idea about freedom in improvised music. In one of those “What is the Beat Generation” lectures of the late ‘50s, Jack Kerouac exclaimed, “Responsibility? Who wouldn’t help a dying man on an empty road!” His comment addresses a fundamental characteristic of human interaction and, consequently, musical interaction when two or more improvisers assemble. They share the responsibility either to communicate with each other or not, but the decision is integral to their freedom. TranceFormation’s debut shows that when such considerations are taken seriously, the resulting music can be miraculous. The disc’s opening phrases give the game away. Bassist Ken Filiano begins a line and pianist Connie Crothers continues it, both acting with the absolutely natural simplicity of a conversation. This happens repeatedly as the music proceeds; there’s a remarkable moment in “Whale Song” where Filiano hints at a pulse, Crothers offers a bluesy retort and the two lock into a groove that broadens and pervades the texture. Hearing the pitch complexes on offer, vocalist Andrea Wolper circles the pattern, ultimately adopting and flavoring it with swells and sudden full-voice bursts. These switches from parallel to serial listening are delightfully unpredictable and satisfying on many levels, speaking to deep listening and collaboration. Crothers and Filiano have fostered a well-documented musical relationship in her quartet, but these performances mark the first time that Wolper has recorded with them. The timbre of her voice conjures uncanny shades of Jeanne Lee and Grace Slick, drawing on rhetoric that juxtaposes ‘soul’ slides and operatic bloom with easy skill. Her collaborators demonstrate similar diversity, jumping into tradition with acrobatic dexterity and casting it aside with the muscular certainty only experience affords. Ben Manley’s recording is gorgeous as usual and it captures each detail of the multivalent interaction that inhabits every moment of this group’s excellent first offering. May there be many more!
By Marc Medwin, The New York City Jazz Record