Connie Crothers is one of the most versatile pianists on a scene that is so often mislabeled free jazz. Her pianism has been cultivated through long years of study and deep listening, evident in each tone, chord and gesture. Overwhelming intensity, at whatever volume, is juxtaposed with transparent beauty in a style that is as unique as it is unpredictable.
Crothers has the perfect partner in clarinetist Bill Payne, with this disc of dialogues belying a long musical relationship, as evidenced by the moment in "Conversation no. 3" when Payne plays a two-note figure, immediately following which Crothers flourishes downward to land on Payne's E-flat. In fact, counterpoint is the duo's MO throughout. It opens "Conversation 4" and is even more rigorous in the tenth conversation. Crothers' Tristano association is made plain in the latter, but as the tenth track heats up, bluesy inflections and clusters pervade, leading to a surprisingly trilled ending from Payne. By contrast, there are the Messiaenic sonorities of "Conversation 12," with Payne beginning in lower registers and with such rhythmic freedom it almost sounds like a movement left out of "Quartet for the End of Time."
The duo's rhythmic diversity is stunning. "Conversation 1" finds them establishing motoric rhythms in variously shifting meters seemingly without effort. If several of the improvised pieces do, in fact, invoke the high-dynamics usually associated with Cecil Taylor, such concerns are momentary and they reflect only one facet of this duo's remarkable ability to communicate quickly and efficiently on many levels. This is improvised music at its finest.