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The Stone Set


Connie Crothers, piano
Bill Payne, clarinet

1. Stone Opener
2. Night on Avenue C
3. Bill's Dream
4. The World Is Completely Mad
5. Revolt of the Birds
6. Connie's Dream
7. Downtown Sparkle
8. East Second St. Reverie
9. Momentum Times Two
10. Your Dream
11. Fun and Dreams
12. Jubilation

Recorded live September 17, 2009, at The Stone, New York NY
All compositions by Connie Crothers and Bill Payne.



Connie Crothers, piano
Bill Payne, clarinet

1. The Desert and the City
2. Conversation #1
3. Conversation #2
4. Conversation #3
5. Conversation #4
6. Conversation #5
7. Conversation #6
8. Conversation #7
9. Conversation #8
10. Conversation #9
11. Conversation #10
12. Conversation #11
13. Conversation #12
14. To Be Continued...


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 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.
— Marc Medwin, All About Jazz/New York, November 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, Issue 18, August 2008



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 variety 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 dragonfly. “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 undergirds and enfolds Payne with a kaleidoscopic progression of chords and note clusters. The precision with which they fit together is uncanny at times. 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 Hazel