Bill Carrothers is one funny guy. One look at his website is enough to establish that, but for further proof one need only look as far as Keep Your Sunny Side Up. That's not to say Carrothers can't be pensively lyrical or downright abstract. But on this follow-up to I Love Paris (Pirouet, 2005), Carrothers demonstrates a near mischievous playfulness as he deconstructs a number of well- and lesser-known standards.
The first of two versions of the title track opens with bassist Ben Street quoting Thelonious Monk. It's an appropriate start, as Carrothers turns the familiar tune on its side with a slap-dash approach that's referential in its idiosyncrasy but entirely personal in its application. Street and drummer Ari Hoenig are the perfect choices for this trio, making it clear that not only can they follow Carrothers' challenges, they can present some of their own as well.
"My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time gets an equally jocular reading. Carrothers delivers an historical cross-section of jazz piano, bringing together hints of ragtime and stride with a free style that becomes increasingly absurd as the tune unfolds (complete with wailing cat in the background). If Jaco Pastorius defined Punk Jazz, then Carrothers clearly has his own subgenre: Slapstick Jazz. Hoenig and Street are right with Carrothers throughout, from vaudeville to a fervent rock beat towards the end that ultimately concludes on a gentler note.
Carrothers shifts the mood on an introspective look at Joni Mitchell's "Roses Blue, with Hoenig's soft, train- like rhythm on brushes maintaining a consistent pulse throughout. "London by Night is an elegant waltz, with Carrothers demonstrating his skill at building solos that never lose sight of a tune's melodic center. Street's solo is equally spare and respectful.
"Salty Peanuts is a subdued freely improvised duet between Carrothers and Hoenig: evidence that it's possible to pull constructs out of the ether and give them concrete shape. Carrothers' sole original composition, "Church of the Open Air, is an almost painfully beautiful tone poem that ebbs and flows with majestic grace.
That most pieces are in the three- to- five-minute range speaks volumes for this trio's economical approach. "You and the Night and the Music is nearly unrecognizable, driven by Carrothers' stop-start beginning and abstract ideas, and Hoenig's military style snare work.
Ending with a soft reprise of the title track, Keep Your Sunny Side Up is another strong and varied entry from Carrothersan artist whose musical identity is clearly defined by his equally complex off-stage persona.
Personnel: Bill Carrothers: piano; Ben Street: bass; Ari Hoenig: drums.