for more reviews, please visit Connie Crothers' webiste: www.conniecrothers.net
Connie Crothers and Bill Payne's CD "Conversations" has been voted one of the Top 10 Jazz CD's released in 2008 by Bill Shoemaker (Down Beat) and Art Lange (Point of Departure) in the recent Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll for 2008!
"Rather than a high-energy blowout, these collaborations leave space, are generally thoughtful and feature close communication between the two musicians, whether they are echoing each other’’s thoughts or offering a pair of contrasting voices. Sounding very much like 'conversations,' the improvisations give Crothers and Payne opportunities to create new melodies and thoughts on the spot, and it often makes for an intriguing listen. It is obvious that they have played together many times before and have a familiarity with each other’’s playing even as they continually surprise each other."
-Scott Yanow, L.A. Jazz Scene
There’s not a wasted note on these tightly constructed, pithy duets between pianist Connie Crothers and clarinetist Bill Payne. Each of the fourteen improvisations sprouts from an initial phrase played by each partner and grows by means of elaborations, variations, and recapitulations of the seed planted by the first notes. Throughout each improvisation, Crothers and Payne remain absolute equals, synchronizing their lines of development without there ever appearing to be a leader and a follower. But they are clearly listening to one another in these intimate dialogues. Each will pick up a hint from the other –mimic a contour, shadow a phrase – but use it only long enough to weave it into what he or she is doing. It’s a kind of a hall of fun house mirrors effect, where images are warped and reflected back and forth until they are utterly transformed. Tempos remain at slow and medium, but there’s lots of var iety in other aspects of their collaboration. “Conversation #2” is full of short gestures, Crothers making brief sweeping arcs as if she were juggling scarves, while Payne dips and arcs like a dragon fly. “Conversation #4” is a braid, a macramé construction of lines and knots of chords that form beautiful patterns. On “The Desert and the City,” Payne’s clarinet moves like a leaf buffeted by the wind, tracing long peregrinations, then wafting upward in little curlicues, or using multiphonics to jump in place. Crothers under girds and enfolds Payne with a kaleidoscopic progression of chords and note clusters. The precision with which they fit together is uncanny at time. Like all students of Lennie Tristano, Crothers is often branded as cool, but this is very passionate music, a product of intense concentration and discipline as well as emotional openness and depth.
Ed Hazell, www.pointofdeparture.org, Issue 18, August 2008
MUSIC IS A PLACE
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.
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.
Although pianist and composer Connie Crothers studied with the influential pianist/composer/philosopher Lennie Tristano so many years ago, she continues to be associated with Tristano and his other students or collaborators. The thing is, Ms. Crothers has continued to evolve and has some dozen discs out as a leader. Each one a worthy gem to consider. She has worked with members of this great quartet for quite a long time, Tabnik for 25 years and Mancuso for 35 years. This particular quartet has worked together weekly for the past five years. You can hear the proof in the pudding as there is a special bond that links this group together. Each of the seven pieces was composed by members of the quartet and each is special in a different way. “Helen’s Tune” has an odd structure that keeps shifting in different sections as if there are a couple of subgroups at work. It is both playful and slightly bent at the same time. Tabnik reminds me of Lee Konitz at times and Jackie McLean at other times with his unpredictable solos. Connie’s has a certain elegance and sophistication that puts her in a class by itself, she sounds like no one else but herself. Another thing that makes this quartet so special is the way they all flow together, they have the dreamlike feel that reminds me of Miles’ rhythm team for the mid-sixties with Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. Often Connie’s solos move in unlikely ways, starting in one direction and then adding layers of lines that she plucks from another realm, similar to the way Sun Ra often pulls rabbits our of hat or space-cap. It is rare at the store that Mike lets me leave on an entire 60+ minute jazz disc that we both find inventive and interesting throughout when we are working together, but this disc meets both of our high standards.
Bruce L. Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter, June 29th, 2007
"The musical link between Connie Crothers and Lenny Tristano was forged in the 1970s when Crothers studied extensively under the maverick pianist, whose unorthodox approach to improvisation was one of the earliest deviations from the established norm of bebop. So it is only natural that she would record an album with Tristano's son Bud.
Frank Rubolino, One Final Note, Spring 2002
After the first couple of runs from Bud's guitar (title track), you'll hear why the title is so apt! Crothers' keyboard explores the kind(s) of rhythm(s) you might have heard 'round earliest man's campfires. & Tristano's strings scream & soar as I imagine primal man did when gathered together. It doesn't stay that way through the whole album, though... lots of style(s) here, & this duo listen carefully to the directions they are moving in/toward. It is clear that they enjoy playing & exploring together, & their energy level for conveying this to the listener are at peak! Lots of improvisation, beautiful interplays & some different combinations I wouldn't mind jamming together on (sometime, maybe). Bud's playing frequently reminds me of a couple of guitarists I've played with, Mr. Painful and Peter Tomshany... full-blown, straight-ahead & (at times) screamin'! Connie's keyboards are (simply) beautiful... no pretentiousness, joy & sadness combined all in one or three chords. Very interesting... enough so that (for any listener who wants to hear improvised music with a different sound, quite unique) this gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating!
Tristano Offspring Impresses! My postman brings me such good stuff. For instance, a CD arrived in my mail slot a couple of weeks ago and the return address was Clarion, Pa., which is home these days to Bud Tristano. The old-timers in the audience will certainly recognize the name of Bud's father. Lenny Tristano, was one of the most influential musicians in jazz, recording and teaching on piano from the 40s through most of the 60s. He died at age 59 in 1978. Son Bud plays guitar and you can hear his rock roots in a new album just released on New Artists Records. "Primal Elegance" pairs Tristano with the outstanding pianist Connie Crothers for a session of innovative sounds that tend to expand one's pleasure through multiple listening. This is truly modern material and it will sound odd and occasionally too heavy to some ears. But, if you give it a chance to work its magic, "Primal Elegance" should win its way into your heart.
Crothers says the music they create is "... coming from a rock lineage. But when we're both improvising the music is unique and intrinsic to itself, rather than to a preconceived style." Tristano, brought up to play the piano as had his father, gave it up by the time he reached 10. He was drawn to rock, feeling that the basic rock guitar/amp setup as a music delivery vehicle is one of the greatest innovations of the 20th century. Tristano says his influences include Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. Not bad choices, right? Connie Crothers studied with Bud's father. He was so impressed that he presented her as a soloist in Carnegie Recital Hall in 1972. Connie Crothers and Bud Tristano make a dynamic duo that should cause some serious rumbles of joy and awe within the music world. Expect great things from this pairing.
"I just have one word for your music. Excellent!!! It is just Art!!! There is a very special feeling in the interaction piano-guitar. It is incredible."
The piano style of Connie Crothers is replete with rich textural phrasing and an ability to dissect a composition to expose its barest roots. Crothers has been an adept pursuer of creativity since the 1960s when she studied under Lennie Tristano and thereafter began performing publicly in the New York area. Her playing is filled with depth and density, hinting at a somber, seemingly brooding persona, which in reality is counter indicative of her true character. This perception is particularly suggested on the solo album Music from Everyday Life. While the title might imply a lighthearted romp, it is anything but that. The songs unfold in heavy layers of sound that cascade from her piano with abundant resonance. Her program of original and standard material is an announced statement of personal, subjective choice, and it is played with intensity and an obvious outpouring of emotion.
Frank Rubolino, onefinalnote.com, September 2001
"The Connie Crothers Quartet or CCQt, is in brilliant, driving form as they generate explosive contemporary bop in "Ontology". Alto sax player Richard Tabnik creates free alto sax lines that project an eerie bi-tonal quality throughout his probing solos in pieces like "Ontology" and the uptempo "Bird's Word." Tabnik's sound is uniquely his own, exploring the fertile ground somewhere between Charlie Parker and early Ornette Coleman; just listen to the engaging double-tempo lines he creates in a swinging version of "My Shining hour" and the floating free blues lines in ballads like "Come Rain or Come Shine" and his memorable original "Fortuity." Crothers has rarely sounded so inspired, from her spacy lyricism in "Ontology" and "Come
On the quartet album Ontology, Crothers has an opportunity to stretch out in tandem with alto player Richard Tabnik and a complementary rhythm team of drummer Roger Mancuso and bassist Sean Smith. Mancuso has been associated with Crothers since the 1970s when they recorded on the Steeplechase label. The heavy, penetrating piano of Crothers is again present, but her introspective nature is tempered and redirected outwardly through her association with the other musicians. Tabnik contributes a lofty, spiraling alto sound that swirls around and inside the piano eddies of Crothers. The tunes have a semblance of structure but are really freelance expressions spun off the song format. Tabnik has the soul of a bop player trying to emerge and penetrate the wall of unconventionality that defines the program. He speaks in a liberated tongue, but his improvisations contain a modicum of form that suggests roots in more traditional modes of expression. His composition "Fortuity" has tangible handles and the changes of "Everything Happens to Me" to enforce even further this dual personality.
Frank Rubolino, onefinalnote.com, September 2001
CONCERT AT COOPER UNION
The influence of Lennie Tristano's teachings survives into the '90s with the Connie Crothers/Lenny Popkin Quartet a principal exponent. "Jazz Spring" melds contrasting approaches, with mixed results. Crothers can be a forceful, percussive pianist, prone to dark, minor chords delivered with a stabbing attack. Popkin favors the tenor saxophone's upper register, and plays smoothly in a style somewhat suggestive of Lee Konitz. As an accompanist, Crothers maintains tension, but sounds stern and hard-edged, almost at odds with the group's bright, upbeat approach. As a soloist, Crothers adopts a more expansive, introspective persona. On the CD's best tracks, "Jazz Spring" and "Beyond a Dream," she exhibits a lighter touch, unraveling elaborate melodic lines. in this mode, she interacts effectively with Popkin's tenor.
Crothers and Popkin's compositions are mostly vehicles for playing, with "Soul Sayer" a meandering variation on "Body and Soul." The sound mix accentuates the high end, giving short shrift to the rhythm section of Cameron Brown and Carol Tristano, and reinforcing Crothers' tendency to overwhelm her colleagues. It's good to hear Brown again on bass -- he's kept too low a profile since the breakup of the Don Pullen/George Adams Quartet, where he was so effective.
Jon Andrews, Down Beat, August 1994
JUST FOR THE JOY OF IT
The two artists have created four short originals for the album. On "Lament" Casanova sings in a falsetto voice to Crothers' piano creations for a striking effect. They attempt it again on the three parts of "Spontaneous Suite" and achieve a whole new level of originality. It is a Jeanne Lee-type approach to singing, and it's an interesting diversion from the other tunes they perform.
Casanova and Crothers have created a moving album that weds an atypical vocal style with creative piano improvisations. It was a treat to hear.
Frank Rubolino, Cadence, February 1998
With flawless pitch and a range that extends well into the contralto register, vocalist Bob Casanova approaches his art with the improvisatory confidence of an experienced jazz saxophonist. Interestingly for one whose conception is decidedly non-traditional, he chooses to direct his attention towards a clutch of widely exercised standards, but so original is his that each performance emerges as a unique expression. Hardly an accompanist in the conventional sense, pianist Crothers, a long-serving disciple of Lennie Tristano, offers intermeshing backgrounds and solos just as striking as Casanova's melodic variations. In keeping with Tristano's working method, their repertoire includes such warhorses as "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To," "Lover Man," "When You're Smiling," "Out of Nowhere," and "I'll Remember April," but they also offer Dimitri Tiomkin's 1957 movie theme, "Wild is the Wind," and the jointly composed "Lament" and "Spontaneous Suite," a fascinating three-part reminder of Lennie's spur-of-the-moment experimentations with Lee Konitz.
NEW YORK NIGHT
Piano and alto sax are paired in this program of nine original pieces plus the ballad oldie "Star Eyes." Connie Crothers plays with great strength and fire, yet seems to draw her lines with lightness and a fine edge. Her rhythmic sense never wavers, even in the most "outside," adventurous constructions she develops with Richard Tabnik.
Some of the airy dryness of the late altoist Paul Desmond colors his sound, but Tabnik follows a different path in terms of both harmonic conception and energy. He and Crothers obviously share close ties in this music which is both individualistic and a direct descendant of the late pianist/teacher Lennie tristano. Substantial and refreshing.