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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Jessica Jones & Connie Crothers – Live at the Freight (New Artists Records, 2013) *****

By Brian Questa

This was one of the most delightful musical suprises I’ve ever come across. I expected exceptional playing, but I wasn’t expecting such a kick in the face. (A pleasant kick in the face.) That’s exactly what I got – some of the most sobering jazz improvisation on record. This is a noble addition to the great jazz duos in the history –Jim Hall and Bill Evans, Ellington and Blanton, Horace Parlan and Archie Shepp, to name my favorites. Jessica Jones and Connie Crothers’ effort, Live at the Freight, is every bit as memorable as the aformentioned duos, and every bit as worthy. I promise you, I cannot think of a better example of a performance so grounded in the jazz tradition, and yet so effortlessly unbounded. The tunes on this album are free improvisations, and the free improvisations are tunes.

Connie Crothers is a master pianist, unrivaled in the scene today. Her fearless playing, with its risks and endless directions, can leave one breathless. I get the distinct perception - only possible from a handful of players in history - that she is truly improvising at every single moment, responding to the input from Jessica Jones, the exigencies of the moment, and her own musical motives, unanimously. To Jones' smooth bluesy phrasing, Crothers sometimes plays the obliging accompanist - other times, the devil’s advocate. Pushing and pulling between the blues and the upper extensions of the now, Jones’ tendency is to blend, like the harmonization of instrumental tone itself, as she becomes the third hand at Connie Crothers’ piano.

Years into the future, this album will continue to present information to its listeners. Each track is filled with a wealth of knowledge and command. It can be a difficult experience to hear the entire album in one sitting: the thoughts brewed in me from a single track last for days. One must prepare for this one. Here is an album you may not discover on a "greatest hits" list for albums of 2014 from your typical jazz blog - for that very reason, you’re going to want to hear this.


AGM said...

This review is so filled with overstatement that one can hardly credit it. But I'll just take one such overstatement: "Connie Crothers is a master pianist, unrivaled in the scene today." I'm not sure what a "master" pianist is. Are they handing out certificates now at The Stone? Do you get the Certification from Free Jazz Piano University? I've never heard Connie declare herself so. Unrivaled? How about: Sylvie Courvoisier; Matt Shipp; Kris Davis; Dave Burrell; Satoko Fuji; Myra Melford; Lucian Ban; Alexander Hawkins; Agusti Fernandez. The list goes on.

From all this you might think I have an issue against Connie. Not at all. I've seen her in live performance and she is excellent. I just think lavish, over the top praise, does her no service and undercuts the credibility of the review.