In the notes to Concert in Paris, veteran pianist Connie
Crothers reflects back on both the sense of the unknown and the spirit of
self-discovery that permeated her first trip to Paris as a teenager. That same
sense of discovery suffuses this 2011 concert at Z’Avant Garde Performance
Space, Crothers’ first solo concert in Paris. Crothers has long carried on the
special musical legacy of Lennie Tristano, sharing his compound commitment to
improvisation, harmonic development and linear flow. The music springs
simultaneously from Crothers’ thoughts and fingers, a series of long
improvisations that take special inspiration from both memory and the immediate
resonances of the piano and the room. There’s an exaggerated, dream-like
presence here, as Crothers’ fondness for clusters finds additional resonance,
vibration and symmetry within each handful of adjacent tones. The opening
“Deuxième Naissance” bridges the watery chromatic impressionism of Debussy and
teeming, echoing scales of Messiaen before turning from all those notes to
theelemental sculpture of blues, creating a music at once authentically French
in its sources and distinctly jazzlike.It is a summoning up of ancestors that
continues in “Dans Mes Rêves” with its evocations of Gershwin’s concert music.
The longest and most potent of Crothers’ expeditions is
“Homage aux Communards”, yet another improvisation rooted in history, a darker,
hard-edged reflection that may be read as somber testament to the painful
responsibility of taking one’s dreams to the barricades. The concluding
“Espoir” is far gentler, Crothers wandering in a field of melody, picking up
and discarding tunes as familiar as “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “How Deep Is
the Ocean”. It’s a fitting conclusion to a concert in which past and present
forms continuously transform one another.
The New York City Jazz Record, December 2014
Both Connie's presence in Paris for the occasion of this concert and her first trip there as a student in the late '50s, which was a life-changing epiphany as the liners recount, give impetus to some really inspired pianism. "Deuxième Naissance" and "Dans Mes Rêves" open the concert with some truly transcendent music related to the here and now and the there and then, and yet beyond both. It's as if Maestro Crothers takes all the music that followed from the kismetic trip and synthesizes it into a total summing. Blues phrasing, bop implications are there and yet the full pallet of all the notes are harnessed to an ultra-expressive, ultra-pianistic narrative of feelings. On this opening segment its as if she pulls together everything she is, everything she has been, and puts it all together in total oneness.
Not that the music that follows is in any way lacking, it keeps the momentum going. "How Deep is the Ocean", "Come Rain or Come Shine" and an earlier Crothers piece "Carol's Dream" come into play as she revels in expressive high after high. Avant atonality and jazz-rooted tonality mix together seamlessly for some very poetic stratus elevations.
"Hommage Aux Communards" has a rather sober cast to it compared to the elation of the earlier segments, but it is quite understandable given her subject--the Paris Commune of earlier times and its fervent aspirations for freedom and a new order. The music does not flag so much as it becomes more introspective, more searching in its dynamic, initially. This might be the place to comment that somehow Connie channels avant classical composers, but really I don't think she does that directly so much as she widens her scope to phrase outside of considerations of jazz per se in the historic sense. It's still all Connie, just as Cecil plays all Cecil and if you can draw parallels to modern classical they have been transformed. So also Connie. This is about an in-the-moment expressiveness coupled with an internally cultivated originality. To me it still epitomises what jazz is about--the lines and the blocks of chordality are about the telling, not so much the form the telling takes, though that too is innovative. It's a matter of emphasis.
"Espoir" gives us the concluding segment of the concert. I'd like to say, "there, you can hear her channeling Roy Eldridge" but she has long gone beyond her well-loved influences, the giants that have come before her and us, to create Connie-music. "Espoir" reflects almost nostalgically on "Come Rain or Come Shine" and it is poetic, filled perhaps with those thoughts we get when we recall a formative past that is now distant yet never really gone. After all the expression that has gone into the concert, we seem to feel, like Billy Strayhorn, "after all...", after all, there we are today, filled with our lives, codifying, condensing, transforming all we have lived through into our art. Certainly Connie does that on this very beautiful recording.
And perhaps, given the exceptional quality of the music here, we can learn from what a master of music does after a lifetime of playing and living. She does not go back. She goes forward but perhaps with a new feeling for all that has gone into who she is now, musically and personally.
I do not wish to put words in her mouth. The music itself speaks to us. It says, "this is what my life has made me. This is the music that most expresses that." And so it is. Concert in Paris gives us a high point among high points. It is all that makes Connie a great artist. It is seminal music. I cannot say more because there is no need to say more.
Just get this one!!
Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Music Review
September 29, 2014