BILL CARROTHERS: piano
DREW GRESS: bass
BILL STEWART: drums
When you listen to the title piece, it's hard to believe what you're hearing. You would never imagine it could sound like this. The piano celebrates a stoic slowness, appears to mark time. Pensive, enigmatic. With endless patience, tentatively feeling its way from bar to bar. Searching. Seemingly struggling with the musical gestalt. Got the wrong track? No: you recognize a few phrases from the theme--but in slow motion. The piano plays alone for most of the five-minute piece. The pianist hums along softly. Only at the end do the bass and drums join in. Joy Spring--once conceived as the Brown-Roach quintet's two-horned exhibition of bravura, and now an acknowledged jazz classic here internalized as an act of creativity. As if someone had crossed the piece's intervals with the atmosphere of Thelonious Monk's Round Midnight--and done it with extraordinary skill. That's how it sounds. Or better put: that's how it can sound when pianist Bill Carrothers pays homage to trumpeter Clifford Brown. And then again completely different, always surprising, at the same time convincing, and above all, played with an exceptional mastery.
The one, a legend. A musician whose life was alarmingly short, but whose phenomenal talent has been lionized by generations of fellow musicians. A jazz personality with a special aura. Trumpeter Clifford Brown: born in 1930, died in 1956 in an auto accident, just 25 years old. The other, a scintillating creative spirit. A maverick. A musician who consequently in the two decades of his career invariably sounds a little different than all the others. And who always sounds a little different than what you would expect from listening to his previous recordings. A man of the in-between tones. A jazz musician for one's listening pleasure. Pianist Bill Carrothers, born in 1964; in New York, renowned for his work with such musicians as Dave Douglas. Moved to Michigan some years ago and at regular intervals continues to stimulate the jazz world's ears and imagination.
With his subtle personal sound, Bill Carrothers takes a bow to the one-time hard-bop trumpet sensation Clifford Brown. The CD is Joy Spring, named after on of Brown's most famous compositions. And with a wink and a nod, this title is misleading; the recording has nothing to do with the joyful, nave over-tones of an exciting legacy--just as little as it has to do with a remorseful lament for a past master. Rather, it is a highly individual reflection. Carrothers' involvement with Clifford Brown's music has many facets. Carrothers' partners are bassist Drew Gress and drummer Bill Stewart. Born in 1959, Gress has made a name for himself playing with, among others, Marc Copland and Ravi Coltrane. Born in 1966, Bill Stewart has played with Dave Holland and Joe Lovano among others, and had already played with Carrothers. Both musicians have strong individual musical identities, a guarantor for musical contours of masterful flexibility. With such partners Carrothers can rely on the groove and at the same time have the freedom to experiment.
Both groove and experimentation are pervasive in the interpretations on this CD, and the excitement is immediate. After Junior's Arrival, the CD's propulsive first piece with its exuberant slugfest--here played considerably faster than the easy-going original 1956 Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet recording--Carrothers lays down his spellbindingly enigmatic interpretation of Joy Spring. It is in turn followed by Jaqui with its artfully penetrating motif written by Brown's colleague pianist Richie Powell, this time as a clever sharply-contoured trio number that parties around the feeling of the original. The comparison to the original shows: here is an ensemble that isn't out there just to go against the grain. Rather--the trio takes a new look into each piece, and in the process comes up with completely organic forms. Now comes the playful Gertrude's Bounce with its accustomed frisky feel; yet there is an undertone that gives the piece a tension that is anything but harmless. Next, the poetic-melancholy Duke Jordan classic, Jordu, a gem out of Clifford Brown's repertoire, unexpectedly played over a nervous, stomping background punctuated by harshly dissonant chords.
And then there is Benny Golson's remembrance masterpiece, the lyrical I Remember Clifford, as radically altered into pensive reflection as Joy Spring before swinging freely into a beautiful trio ballad. Once again Bill Carrothers is convincing not only through his unique, coherent interpretations, but also through his choice of compositions. The twelve tracks present an impressive cross-section with a highly symbolic order. From Junior's Arrival through I Remember Clifford, they represent a journey of an artist from imaginary beginning on the world stage on through to posthumous remembrance.
In-between are some of the trumpeter's most impressive compositions (among them, Daahoud, Gerkin for Perkin, and Tiny Capers). But there are also pieces from other composers that where part of Brown's repertoire: Victor Young's Delilah, and a handful of Richie Powell compositions all make sense in this context. Pianist Richie Powell, the younger brother of be-bop icon Bud Powell and member of the Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet, died with Clifford in an auto accident. Powell's wife Nancy was driving, and also died in the crash. At any rate, it's possible that a whiff of I Remember Richie" can be detected in the interpretations of Powell's pieces. And in the sensitive ballad Time, and Powell's Prances, Powell comes to light as a strong counterpoint to Clifford, someone whose compositions have a right to be a part of the of be-bop's immortal legacy.
Bill Carrother's CD Joy Spring is a jazz adventure, sensitive and thrilling, soulful and surprising. Clifford Brown fans can enjoy the new light shed on the compositions' deeper meanings, rather than having to endure the smooth-sounding imitations that are the usual fare. They will discover interpretations that through their radical individuality show more respect to the originals than any copy ever could. And whoever wishes to discover Clifford Brown as well will find that Bill Carrothers' recordings are not just the first taste of something that could become addicting but at some point or other could be just as easily replaced with some other habit; his music can become a lifelong obsession, for Joy Spring is a reflection of a very unique magic.
For more information go to www.pirouetrecords.com.