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Bill Carrothers: Family Life

Dan McClenaghan By

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Bill Carrothers: Family Life Minnesota-born pianist Bill Carrothers made the seemingly obligatory to pilgrimage to New York and spent five years there, doing the hustle and hang for work. That's how it's done in the jazz world. Or not. After five unhappy years in the Big Apple, Carrothers packed up his piano and moved to Michigan's Upper Peninsula—not exactly a jazz-centric locale—to resume a life more serene and start a family.

Family Life, a solo piano offering, finds Carrothers in a mostly tranquil and introspective mood. He sounds like a man who has found peace. Its 15 tunes are mostly spontaneously composed in the studio, giving the sound a freshness and immediacy. "Our House," the set's opener, is an ode to the Carrothers' rural abode, lovingly—and arduously—restored and remodeled by the pianist and family and friends over the course of five years. The ballad is laid down with exquisite patience—and obvious reverence and love, aspects of the music that rise to a higher level on "Scarborough Fair/Peg," a blending of the Old English folk song made famous by Simon and Garfunkel in 1966 and Carrother's own tender musical caress to his wife.

Residing in northern latitudes affords the opportunity to observe the "Northern Lights," and Carrothers describes this visual experience with a shimmering and luminescent piano, leading into "Snowbound," with sense of calmness rising above the foreboding. "On the Sled" rides a steady left hand rhythm, while the pianist's right hand flirts with a careening chaos. "Bud and Bunny" for Carrothers' children, has a lightness and poignancy, and a sense of wonder of a father understanding his greatest and most beautiful responsibilities.

Then there's the geography: "Harbor Lights," a song that was a top ten hit in 1950 for Bing Crosby, is chosen as a reference to the Ontonagon Lighthouse, near the Carrothers' home at the intersection of the Ontonagon River and Lake Superior, while "Gitchee Gumee," an Indian name for that largest of the world's fresh water lakes, possesses a sense of awe and reverence, and slips briefly into the riff of "Jean-Pierre," from trumpeter Miles Davis' We Want Miles (Columbia, 1982).

Carrothers has released several top notch CDs on Pirouet Records—2005's I Love Paris, his 2010 tribute to trumpeter Clifford Brown, Joy Spring, and the marvelous 2011 live set, A Night at the Village Vanguard. With Family Life, he has created his most intimate and personal work for the label.

Track Listing: Our House; Scarborough Fair/Peg; For Better and for Worse; Bud and Bunny; Northern Lights; Snowbound; On the Sled; Schizophrenic Weather; Forefathers; Good Dog; A Night Out; Harbor Lights; News From Home; Gitchee Gumee; When We're Old.

Personnel: Bill Carrothers: piano.

Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Pirouet Records | Style: Modern Jazz


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