Bill Carrothers - piano
Recorded by Gérard de Haro live in concert inside Studio La Buissonne, Pernes les Fontaines on March 20, 2004.
Edition limited to 2000 copies
Release date - October 2005
The Irish Times - 5 out of 5 stars
January 19, 2007
Carrothers, who starts an Irish tour tomorrow, made this superb solo piano recording of American Civil War songs before a studio audience in 2004 (he had recorded some of them 15 years ago in The Blues And The Greys). Of the latter recording you can write about the exquisite reharmonizing of the more familiar pieces, the freedom and authority everywhere evident in his imaginative responses to these old songs, and the sheer beauty that results. But this does little justice to the range of moods and colours he draws from them, sometimes reinforced by cross-referencing, nor does it convey just how moving these performances are, their beauty suffused with a kind of sorrowful honouring of the past. One of those occasions when thought, emotion, experience and skill fuse in a miraculous balance.
Wire Magazine (UK) - Top 10 jazz disc of 2005
By John Kelman
If pianist Bill Carrothers hadn’t found his way to music, he might have been a historian. Fortunately, Carrothers has found a unique way to combine both interests. Armistice 1918 (Sketch, 2004) was a remarkably broad-scoped concept piece that brought together his own thought-provoking compositions with imaginative reworkings of popular songs from the First World War. But that wasn't the first time Carrothers mined archival wartime music. The Blues and the Greys (Bridgeboy, 1997), the first release under his own name, put a distinctly personal slant on material from the American Civil War and established him as a fresh voice worth watching.
Despite widespread critical acclaim, Sketch’s unfortunate dissolution caused Armistice 1918 to disappear all too quickly. The good news is that Philippe Ghielmetti, the man behind Sketch, is back with a new label, and its first release is Carrothers’ latest, the solo piano Civil War Diaries. Recorded live in the studio in front of a small audience of invitees, Carrothers takes greater liberty with his source material than on The Blues and the Greys, extending it to create a powerful emotional statement about the moral ambiguities of war without uttering a single word.
All nine tracks can also be found on The Blues and the Greys, but in the true spirit of jazz—articulated with finesse in Carrothers’ own liner notes—they have evolved considerably, and Carrothers’ own growth as a pianist gives these new treatments even deeper emotional resonance. While the original version of “Tenting on the Old Campground” is lyrical and elegant, here Carrothers turns it into a darker, more abstract piece that's disturbing rather than uplifting. Equally, “Weeping Sad and Lonely” takes on a more brooding complexion. The familiar melody is there, but Carrothers turns it into something bleaker and more complex. Even though a more bittersweet and faithful reading appears two-thirds of the way through, there’s a subtle undercurrent that keeps things unsettled and off-kilter.
Carrothers turns “The Yellow Rose of Texas” into a blues that demonstrates his ability to combine roots in the jazz tradition with a wider harmonic outlook. Much as pianist/friend Marc Copland consistently finds ways to put a distinctly contemporary stamp on even the most overplayed of standards, Carrothers reinvents archival songs that are almost part of the collective subconscious into something wholly modern.
Throughout, the pianist’s improvised extensions develop logically—there’s no grandstanding here, nor is there the feeling that he’s just applying what he knows. Instead, every tune—from the understated grandeur of “Bonnie Blue Flag” to the slight dissonances of “Carry My Back to Old Virginia”—is filled with a sense of discovery, where Carrothers may be as surprised at where the songs take him as his audience. They say jazz is the sound of surprise, and Civil War Diaries is defined by the unexpected. And when comparing the American zeitgeist of 2005 to that of 1997, Carrothers’ reprisal of the material proves that art truly reflects the times in which we live.
Ring Magazine (UK)
By ANDY HAMILTON
Bill Carrothers, born 1964 in Minneapolis, has long been fascinated by the American Civil War. This is the second album the jazz pianist has devoted to the music of that era. In notes to The Blues and the Greys: Music Of The Civil War from 1993, he explained how he began compiling this music after seeing the famous Civil War series on PSB. When he plays these pieces, he's reminded of an old film clip: "...Civil War veterans gathering at the Gettysburg battlefield, all of them old and withered and with long, flowing beards...[with] a look about their faces of men who have seen far too much pain and suffering, but...also a strength in those looks that a younger, stronger man could never have." His great-great grandfather was a lieutenant in Lee's army, and later a champion fiddler who probably played many of these tunes.
Impressive though his previous historical project - Armistice 1918 - was, Carrothers exceeds it on this solo live recording, banishing any thought that these are quirky pieces of research. He's a true original, finding subjects for jazz recomposition in the most unlikely material. "I make sure I know the lyrics of each tune", he explains. "You have to figure out what each tune wants. It's less important what you want to say on it, than what it wants to say." He respects the standard song form, but his improvisations sound through-composed. The nearest comparison I know is tracks such as "Deep River" and "In The Good Ol' Summertime" from Art Lande's superb, neglected Hardball from 1987, which have a similar feel of Americana.
These are well-conceived, multi-layered yet immediately affecting performances. "Tenting On The Old Campground" arises out of a mist – the kind of the atmospheric technique Carrothers excels at. "7th Cavalry March", with its high single line over a strumming bass line, conveys the impression of fife and drums, while at the end of "Bonnie Blue Flag", the theme in the high register is like a ghostly music box. The recording was made at Pernes les Fontaines, near Avignon in France, and shows an evolution of this repertoire from the pianist's first recording over a decade ago. The results are beautiful and unmissable.