Best of 2014, Downbeat Magazine ★★★★
New Artists Records
CONNIE CROTHERS, piano
RICHARD TABNIK, alto saxophone
ROGER MANCUSO, drums
KEN FILIANO, bass
By John Ephland
The five originals on Deep Friendship are hefty expressions of post-bop that remain angular and mysterious and, at times, step outside their forms altogether, in a kind free playing. Once an important student of Lennie Tristano, Crothers' style is also reminiscent of late-'50s, early '60s Cecil Taylor. Alto saxophonist Richard Tabnik, Crother's stalwart collaborator since the early '80s, somehow manages to bring the sound and energy of Ornette Coleman and Archie Shepp, even as the band sounds contemporary and a bit more radical.
A good example of this interplay and spontaneous improvisation comes with Crothers' opening number, the quirky, labyrinthine "Ontology." A medium-tempo piece, it swings when it isn't pausing and reflecting, Tabnik's wailing alto doubling up with Crothers' busy single lines.
Recorded live in November of 2010, the CD suffers from poor recording quality (another, more conventional historical reference being Coleman's live date with pianist Paul Bley, also a quartet recording). That said, the playing throughout manages to overcome the audio aspects, due in part to the intensity and surefootedness of everyone here, including drummer Roger Mancuso (who joined Crothers in 1974 for the album Perception) and bassist Ken Filiano, musicians able to read the other two's deft moves in and out of each song's involved structures en route to extended blowing.
On Tabnik's "Linearity," Crothers' goading piano lines express a kind of alter ego to Tabnik's angular, swinging wails. Crothers' playing is restless, delicate, her fluid lines punctuated by chord clusters that evoke images of her wrists as well as fingers getting in on the action. "Deep Friendship" closes out the set, a medium-tempo waltz that reflects back on the unity of all four members, with Tabnik at the foundation. Deep Friendship itself comes across like a special home recording session, and everyone's invited.