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Extended Analysis

Bill Carrothers Trio: A Night at the Village Vanguard

By Published: June 13, 2011
Bill Carrothers Trio
A Night At The Village Vanguard
Pirouet Records
2011

Pianist Bill Carrothers could not have picked a better venue to cut a trio recording in. Whether it's the inimitable acoustics of the Village Vanguard, or simply the sheer number of essential records cut there over the decades shaping listeners' ears, recordings made at the Greenwich Village cathedral with the red awning somehow sound an extra bit more like jazz. That ineffable something is in the air on these two sets from July 18, 2009. The result is a stellar, thoughtful effort by the underrated Carrothers that promises to be one of the better trio releases of 2011.

It's unfair to compare any piano trio album, let alone one recorded at the Vanguard, to the classic recordings which Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
' trio cut on the same stage. Even still, there's something distinctly Evans-ish about the trio's work here. Carrothers' longtime "European" band features Belgian musicians Nicolas Thys on bass and Dre Pallemerts on drums, both of whom play with dry restraint and remarkable versatility. There's also something in Carrothers' voice—its gentle dynamics, its classically tinged harmonic choices and its self-control—which calls to mind the work of his ancestor at that famous piano. Make no mistake, he bears all the markings of a "modern" player, but there is something in his sound and the way he approaches the songs here that strongly harkens back to the sound of Evans.

Song choice alone also goes a long way in setting a trio apart. Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
1930 - 1956
trumpet
's wonderful and underplayed "Tiny Capers" starts the first set off right—and, Carrothers pays further tribute to Brown throughout the night with "Joy Spring/Delilah" and "Gerkin for Perkin." All night long, the program avoids the same old routine by mixing quality, heartfelt standards with inventive originals. There's a sense of fun within tradition going on all night long, with references to stride and a strong sense of the blues. Familiar little allusions pop up from time to time, easy references to composer/instrumentalists such as George Gershwin
George Gershwin
George Gershwin
1898 - 1937
composer/conductor
("Gerkin for Perkin"), Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
("Capers") and Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
("This is Worth Fighting For").

Yet a delicate sense of darkness also seems to lurk within these interpretations, as with "Joy Spring / Delilah" (ironically), which opens with the haunting solo piano and expands to a spooky march with subtle dissonances. Similarly, Duke Jordan
Duke Jordan
Duke Jordan
1922 - 2006
piano
's "Jordu" opens with a kind of strung-out stride, before finding its way to a slightly discombobulated swing. And, in one of the more stirring moments of the album, Jimmy Dorsey
Jimmy Dorsey
Jimmy Dorsey
1904 - 1957
composer/conductor
's "This is Worth Fighting For" turns into a mournful anthem. suggesting the noir piano of a player such as Ran Blake
Ran Blake
Ran Blake
b.1935
piano
, and fraught with faint bright notes in the piano's upper register, like twinkles from a broken music box.

The second disc is a little more sedate than the first, a little less traditional, and thus more demanding of careful attention. In some ways, it seems to draw more strongly on the melding of classical music and jazz, as on Carrothers' "Peg," a soft piece played predominately by piano and bass, and alluding to Beethoven. "Days of Wine and Roses" undergoes a transformation on solo piano that meanders around gentle dissonances and strange, soft ruminations. Richie Powell
Richie Powell
b.1931
's "Time" opens at very low volume, and stays almost out of earshot as it develops to a thoughtful feature for the bass. This carries over into the traditional "Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel," a ten minute highlight that picks up the pace with some revival meeting bounce.

Carrothers' writing bears up well in its good company. The evocative "Snowbound" has a hypnotic and somber groove that allows the leader to meander gently around within the melody, while "Home Row" is an upbeat bop boiler that sounds just as standard as the songs around it. Finally, "Our House" bids a bittersweet goodnight to the listener, with the piano seeming to speak little phrases in free time as the other instruments fill in the blanks. It's a warm coda to a rich night of music.

Tracks: CD1: Tiny Capers; Joy Spring/Deliah; Gerkin For Perkin; Gertrude's Bounce; Jordu; This Is Worth Fighting For; Home Row; News From Home; Let's Get Lost; Those Were the Days. CD2: Junior's Arrival; Time; Jordan Is A Hard Road to Travel; Peg; Blue Evening; Discombopulated; Snowbound; Days of Wine And Roses; Our House.

Personnel: Bill Carrothers: piano; Nicolas Thys: bass; Dre Pallemaerts: drums.


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