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Bill Carrothers: Joy Spring

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist Bill Carrothers has narrowed his often expansive focus. Where the marvelous and career-defining Armistice 1918 (Sketch Records, 2004) concerned itself with the scope of World War I, and I Love Paris (Pirouet Records, 2005) explored popular songs from the twenties through the forties, Joy Spring zeros in on a smaller slice of a more recent history: the music of died-too-young hard bop trumpeter Clifford Brown.

Brown (b.1930, d. 1956), was a young phenom who enjoyed only a four-year recording career in the early to mid-fifties, but he was one of bebop's pioneers, putting out a remarkable number of albums in his brief moment in the spotlight, by today's standards. Teamed with drummer Max Roach and pianist Richie Powell (Bud Powell's brother) in the Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet, he waxed numerous classic cuts that are now considered bop standards. On Joy Spring Carrothers covers and/or reinvents—and always puts his off-kilter personal touch on—a dozen of these gems.

The disc opens with the Benny Golson-penned "Junior's Arrival." Carrothers and his trio-mates glide into a rollicking roll, adding sparkle and pop to a reverent take on the tune, leaving no doubt that that this is hard bop, much akin to the approach Bud Powell took with his Bud Plays Bird (Roulette Records, 1958), a tribute to alto saxophone giant Charlie Parker. But with the title tune, Carrothers goes it (nearly) solo, and slows the bright romp of the original down to a beautiful dirge.

The devil-may-care momentum of hard bop's bounce and ebullience is back on Richie Powell's "Jacqui." The trio is big on interaction and spontaneity, lending the feeling that they didn't sit around and do ten takes of each tune; they just got in there and nailed them. The sound is fresh and on edge. Bassist Drew Gress and drummer Bill Stewart are Carrother's trio mates here, the same two-thirds of a piano trio that contributed so ably to Marc Copland's Night Whispers, the third volume in his New York Trio Recordings triptych masterpiece. That they can keep up with and accentuate the charging, quirky, headlong ideas and unpredictable tangents of Carrothers is simply amazing.

This is a masterfully sequenced album. The up-tempo "Jacqui" leads into another barn-burner, "Gerkin for Perkin," followed by the loveliest imaginable, Carrothers-esque ballad take on Victor Young's "Delilah." Then there's the drifting tempo of "Gertrude's Bounce," featuring the leader's delicate touch and Stewart's shuffling drums. Duke Jordan's "Jordu" struts out with a metronomic march rhythm, with Carrother's playing flashy and bright, leaning in a ragtime direction. "Daahoud" sizzles along, and "Time," opening on a lugubrious bass solo, injects a late night, sitting-all-alone with a drink mood.

"I Remember Clifford," Benny Golson's wistful tribute to "Brownie," is slowed to a gorgeous crawl and closes this standout set, one that should lift the profile of the idiosyncratically original Carrothers up where it belongs, into the top echelon of today's jazz pianists.

Track Listing: Junior's Arrival; Joy Spring; Jacqui; Gerkin for Perkin; Delilah; Gertrude's Bounce; Jordu; Daahoud; Time; Powell's Prances; Tiny Capers; I Remember Clifford.

Personnel: Bill Carrothers: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Bill Stewart: drums.

Title: Joy Spring | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Pirouet Records

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