Alexis Parsons & Connie Crothers | Hippin’ | NA1047

Connie Crothers, piano | Alexis Parsons, voice

Recorded in NYC, December 2009. Mastered and recorded by Dan Gerhard. Design and photography by Justine Parsons.

Tracklist: 1. Zie 2. Exactly…What? 3. Steady Girl 4. Stranger 5. Listen 6. Hippin’ 7. Beginning & End 8. The Space 9. Wild is the Wind (Dimitri Tiomkin & Ned Washington)

When vocalist Alexis Parsons met pianist Connie Crothers

in the winter of 2005, she was no musical novice. Parsons had studied formally and she’d also worked with a number of renowned pianists. “I love the voice,” she says, “I love words, and I love the way bodies move. I always had natural vocal ability and I loved to dance, but I needed a context that would provide me the opportunity to express myself creatively. I wanted to improvise in the moment, using vocal sounds and body movement. I’d been searching for a context where I could bring them all together; I found that with Connie.”

Well aware of the pianist’s reputation as the standard-bearer of the Lennie Tristano legacy, Parsons called Crothers to ask for a lesson. Their first meeting—in Crothers’ Brooklyn loft—was just conversation, but it was an emancipating discourse. Parsons explains: “For the first time I was talking to someone who felt the same way that I did about music. And after we played, I felt liberated because I could do anything I wanted.”

For her part, Crothers immediately warmed to the expressive quality in Parsons’ work: “In that first conversation, I knew that she was truly and completely there; I knew she would immediately release it all. And she did. Then her music went to places I’d never experienced. I haven’t heard anything like what Alexis creates. What she does is not just singing for its own sake; it’s her own dimension of feeling and energy.”

Tristano encouraged his students to internalize the great recorded solos of past masters like Lester Young, Roy Eldridge and Charlie Parker as a way to springboard them into harmonic and linear creativity. Crothers is certainly a beautiful extension of that esthetic. But Parsons doesn’t rely on standard song forms here. “Alexis doesn’t come out of a tradition,” Crothers clarified. “She proves that it’s not about style and lineage, but about what you feel on the deepest level. She didn’t have to work at that; it was just there in her and she could release it in a spontaneous way. She has a beautiful instrument and she can express it openly. Her virtuosity is natural— not used for effect, but to fulfill the moment; it’s very pure.”

Although they’re two artists who revel in the possibilities of the moment, the interactive alchemy that Parsons and Crothers achieve on this recording is no accident. Alto saxophonist Richard Tabnik, a Crothers collaborator for many years, expresses wonder at her abilities. “Somehow,” Tabnik offers, “she can create an entire tailor-made universe for different people she plays with. I’ve heard her play one note that becomes the entire universe and I’ve heard her play amazing complex things that she makes sound inevitable.”

Crothers adds: “I am inspired moment by moment by what Alexis creates. The music does have a feeling of inevitability because it comes from such a profound source within her—every note, every word, every sound. I don’t feel like I am accompanying a singer; I am creating music with a great artist.”

One listen to any of the tracks on Hippin’ and it’s apparent that this is a collection cut live and unedited; there are no overdubs here. The pieces have a raw quality that, at times, taps into an untamed space that transcends music and embraces performance art. The stream-of-consdousness text and vocals are actually placed quite judiciously.

Parsons uses sung and spoken text fragments in this program, but they’re improvised in the moment. The remarkable found narrative in “Beginning and End” takes on the air of a one-act play pulled out of the air. “Wild Is The Wind” veers from the format, although Parsons and Crothers redesign the tune into a kind of floating sonic nebula.

Crothers recalls their first musical meeting: “We were both astonished…and that was our starting point!” Hear how far they’ve come and be astonished in turn. — Kirk Silsbee, May 2012

Alexis Parsons

is a New York City based vocalist of Greek and Swedish decent. She has spent a lifetime honing a uniquely personal vocal style and fiercely independent career. The long and often arduous journey through the years has stamped her rich alto voice with warmth, wisdom and a flexibility borne of the eclectic musical roads she’s traveled.

During the past two decades, Alexis has led a variety of bands, showcasing her distinctive interpretations of both standard and lesser-known works in the jazz canon. As a bandleader, she has shown exceptional skill and a discerning ear in selecting accompanists. Her trios have included a host of celebrated artists, including pianists Frank Kimbrough, Arturo O’Farrill, David Berkman, and Lynn Arriale among others. Manning the bass have been top call performers such as Drew Gress, Dean Johnson, Cameron Brown and Sean Smith. And behind the drums, Matt Wilson and Willard Dyson have provided swinging and sensitive grooves. Alexis graduated from the Manhattan School of Music.

click the image to visit the Alexis Parsons web page…

Alexis Parson won some polls last year

because she is very good. Connie Crothers wins polls and has for years because she is central to the music. Put the two together and let them freely interact without any song material except, towards the end, “Wild is the Wind.”

Now of course Connie playing free is nothing new–but again of course it is nearly always extraordinary. “Free” vocals are not something you hear a great deal of. We musn’t forget Abbey Lincoln and Patty Waters, two of the first, and there have been others, some excellent, that have followed, but not really a huge number of them.

After Ms. Parsons did her album of songs a while back (which I covered) I knew she was strong. But for a free date? Here we have the two and their Hippin’ (New Artists 1047) doing just that. It turns out Alexis is very poised, inventive and personally unique in this mode too.

If everything works well for a date like this, the people involved have to be very attuned to what they will do. That’s most certainly so. Then what they do needs to have interest, trajectory, drama, and so forth. There never is any doubt with what Connie would do here, because she is a monster improviser-artist. And so that happens to be the case once again. And Alexis Parsons gives you the surprise of having very much her own way of getting free and out there. This is a winner! Outside and thoughtful in excellent ways. —

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