Recent Listening: Trios. Part 2, Carrothers, Smith, Sills, Peterson

Bill Carrothers, Joy Spring (Pirouet). Carrothers, a pianist, lives in a remote area of Michigan, has a quixotic web site and records copiously for European labels. A prodigious technician, he is a master of the Joy Spring.jpgreassembled melody and the customized harmonic scheme. Here, he renovates pieces from the repertoire of the great trumpeter Clifford Brown. “Joy Spring,” recognizable by a few of its phrases, is a slow meditation. “Jordu,” becomes, improbably, a march. When he observes tempos and harmonies resembling those of Brown’s recordings, Carrothers makes the pieces his own through ingenious chord transformations. “Daahoud,” “Tiny Capers” and “Gherkin for Perkin” are among the subjects of his makeovers. Bassist Drew Gress and drummer Bill Stewart are Carrothers’ co-conspirators in this stimulating set.
Dr. Lonnie Smith, Spiral (Palmetto). With never a thought of retooling tunes a la Carrothers, the maestro of the Hammond B3 organ nonetheless ventures well beyond conventional organ trio clichés. He continues to produce CDs whose swing and good feeling compelLonnie Smith Spiral.jpg smiles and the rhythmic employment of pedal extremities. Smith is, however, considerably more than a party music organist, as he demonstrates with the moodiness and surprise chordal turns of his minor-key title tune, the rhythmic variety in “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and the apiary atmospherics of his interpretation of Harold Mabern’s “Beehive.” His swing is irresistible in “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” his bluesiness profound in Slide Hampton’s “Frame for the Blues.” Guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jamire Williams are admirable in support. In his 68th year, the Dr. is in.
David Sills Light Touch (Dasil). Tenor saxophonist Sills takes his time, constructing thoughtful lines that tell stories. Even at brisk tempos, as in Charlie Parker’s “Blues for Alice” and Thumbnail image for Sills Light Touch.jpghis own “It’s All You” (his line on “It’s You or No One”), he is unhurried and cogent. With pianist Chris Dawson and bassist Derek Oles, Sills applies his capacious tone and pliant imagination to pieces by a variety of composers including Horace Silver, Cole Porter, Hermeto Pascoal and Bill Evans. There are high points in moments of counterpoint between Sills and Dawson, an increasingly impressive pianist. Sills plays flute to great effect on Evans’ minor blues “Interplay.” Oles solos powerfully for one chorus on the piece. That’s all he needed. This first CD on Sills’ own label is a sleeper. It deserves attention.
Oscar Peterson & The Bassists (OJC). One of the most unusual trio recordings of Oscar Peterson’s career was of a performance at the 1977 Montreux JazzOscar Peterson & Bassists.jpg Festival in Switzerland. It is still in the OJC catalog. He appeared not with bass and drums or bass and guitar, but with two formidable bassists. Ray Brown’s association with Peterson went back nearly 30 years to the beginning of the pianist’s American career. The astonishing young Dane Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen was a more recent colleague. The three played a set that included memorable versions of “There is no Greater Love” and “Reunion Blues,” but the piece de resistance was a “Sweet Georgia Brown” containing an unaccompanied Peterson chorus that someone cut out of the Montreux video, labeled the “Greatest piano solo ever” and posted on YouTube. I can imagine Oscar countering that claim by invoking Art Tatum. But here is that breathtaking solo in the context of the complete performance, allowing you to judge for yourself.

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  1. Mel Narunsky says

    I should not be making comments about the Bill Carrothers release but, as I am unlikely ever to get the opportunity to hear it, I’ll go ahead anyway. One of my pet musical peeves is when musicians change the melody of a composition that is not their own while stating that melody, or when they change the harmonic structure of a composition during improvisation – or even the whole structure of a tune (as Miles did to “When Lights Are Low” [Benny Carter] – which was incorrectly adopted by many other musicians). It’s not what the composer intended and to my mind becomes a different composition based on original idea by someone else.
    Oh well… as you stated in your review, Carrothers makes the pieces his own through ingenious chord transformations. But they are still presented as being by Clifford Brown.
    When Richard Rodgers heard someone messing with any of his songs he raised hell. And why not? It was his creation after all.
    (Except in “Joy Spring,” which is clearly a free rumination on Clifford Brown containing a few references to the tune, I don’t hear Carrothers changing the structures of the pieces.
    As for Miles Davis and “When Lights Are Low,” he abandoned the bridge, or B, section of the tune altogether, simply raising the A section a fourth and making it the eight-bar bridge. It was a mystifying decision, since Carter’s bridge has an inspired chord progression. Davis made the song less interesting. Marian McPartland and I once discussed the Davis recording. She was indignant. “Oh, how could he DO that to Benny’s song?” she said. Because of Davis’s popularity and influence, several generations of young jazz musicians grew up thinking that’s how the piece was supposed to go. — DR)

  2. Rob D says

    I have OP to thank for making me a jazz fan. Those Norman Granz Pablo label records were really what got me into the music and one recording in particular “Oscar Peterson Live In Russia” stuck with me for years. It was a great intro to the repertoire and styles of mainstream jazz musicians.
    But I don’t find OP as rewarding to listen to as I once did. There are a few CD’s that I still enjoy but he generally loses out to Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, and others of that era. He was a titanic talent but I think he stayed in the same bag and once you’ve heard it’s enough and doesn’t reward further listenings as much as the aforementioned artists.