Photo: Konstantin Kern
I love the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet without reservation; Brown was a mind-blowing trumpeter, backed by one of the most talented, hardest-swinging bands in the history of jazz. I mostly hate piano trios; unless the pianist is a keyboard-smashing aggressor, I just keep waiting for the real lead instrument to come in. This album, a piano trio date composed entirely of pieces either by or associated with Brown, forces me to find middle ground between those two positions. Fortunately, Bill Carrothers is an impressive pianist who finds avenues for unique and personal exploration in these over 50-year-old compositions, and winds up making a much more interesting album than a cynical listener might anticipate.
The opening version of “Junior’s Arrival” swings hard, and Carrothers takes a pretty wild solo as bassist Drew Gress and drummer Bill Stewart keep the rhythm vaulting forward behind him. This is followed by an unaccompanied ballad version of “Joy Spring” that sounds more like a rainy February afternoon. Things get rolling again with “Jacqui,” on which Carrothers’ right hand goes wild again, moving past the speedy ripples of bebop and into something post-Monkian, even throwing in a Jerry Lee Lewis-style run down the length of the keyboard. Gress and Stewart get spotlight time, too. Throughout this album, the drummer slices and dices the rhythm in a manner reminiscent of Tony Williams’ work with Miles Davis, giving the uptempo numbers a twitchy energy that’s pretty much the best possible approach, since the challenge of matching Max Roach isn’t one I would advise any player to take up. The only track I really don’t like is the languorous take on “Delilah,” sapping its energy and its beauty. That track, which is my favorite in the whole Brown/Roach catalog, gets its power from the balance between its melody and its rhythmic impetus. Remove one, leaving the notes too far apart, and the whole thing collapses.
Basically, the faster these guys play, the better this album sounds. There are enough uptempo tracks that the ballads—which are beautiful, but which don’t remind me of Clifford Brown as much as they remind me of all the piano trio discs that have put me to sleep over the years—become tolerable interludes rather than ordeals to be endured. (If I want slow piano, I’ll listen to Morton Feldman.) And Stewart’s superb drumming elevates Carrothers’ piano playing and Gress’ bass work to a higher plane, which is the point of combining these three instruments in this way. This album—which combined two of my least favorite aspects of modern jazz, the piano trio and the “[young guy] plays the music of [dead guy]” concept album—caught me totally by surprise.
1. Do I foresee myself listening to this record again? Astonishing myself, I’m gonna say Yes.
2. Should you buy this record? Yes.
Link to purchase, if you’re so inclined…