What Virgil is saying about A Band In All Hope...


Critic's Choice - Chicago Reader, April 12, 1996

Cute name, though hard to figure: "Abandon All Hope" emblazoned Dante's entrance to Hell, but there's nothing satanic about this trio, and the music has too much order and logic to remotely suggest Pandemonium. In fact, you won't even find much in the way of darkness in this group, because it lacks the deepest of the conventional instruments - the bass. Still, A Band In All Hope doesn't lack for rhythm, thanks mainly to the highly regarded young drummer Bill Stewart (last heard in Chicago in the groups led by John Scofield and Maceo Parker). Stewart plays like a percussion encyclopedia, grabbing whatever rhythm or fill fits best from anywhere in jazz and splicing it with crisp accuracy - coloring the music from a broad tonal palette. And, like Roy Haynes and Tony Williams (two of his early influences), Stewart makes especially difficult beats and patterns sound deceptively easy. Minneapolis pianist Bill Carrothers and New York saxist Anton Denner complete the group, and each of them radiates a similar command and unprepossessing focus. It's been a while since the mainstream jazz context supported a bassless trio - 50 years, in fact, since Lester Young made some famous trio recordings in this instrumentation (with Nat "King" Cole and Buddy Rich) - and it places peculiar demands on the drummer and pianist, requiring both to emphasize the lower timbres of their respective instruments. It also gives even the most thickly textured passages a certain airiness: like those endlessly entwined hydroponic plants, the music can get very complicated and still seem to float. A Band In All Hope go that route often, and effectively. Some of the time, though, they downplay their unusual instrumentation to concentrate on imaginative reworkings of familiar standards - such as a New Orleans second-line version of the show tune anthem "Puttin' On The Ritz" or a mournful minor-key take on "Dixie."

- Neil Tesser -

(Piano/Drum Duet Concert)

Stewart, Carrothers Extend Jazz Tradition

You really don't have to know the tunes when drummer Bill Stewart and pianist Bill Carrothers play. Each begins at the beginning and ends at the end and in between you are too lost in musical meditation to care. Sometimes at the end, something does emerge, Putting On The Ritz, You And The Night And The Music, a blues with echoes of Swinging Shepherd, for example. More often it's an original tune, like the stunningly pretty three-quarter time ballad Carrothers invented three tunes in to the first set at the Halifax Holiday Inn Select Commons Room Friday night on the JazzEast concert.

It illustrated, as if preserved in amber, Carrothers' sensitive harmonic imagination. For most of it, recognizing the exquisite fragility of the improvisation, Stewart simply put his sticks down and listened like the rest of us. Carrothers is a master of what music harmony texts call the deceptive cadence. Jazz musicians call it chord substitution. Both describe the same thing a melody whose harmonies imply an expected chord on the next change, gets a different one. When that happens, a mysterious chemistry takes place in the body, like an infusion of warmth. Carrothers introduces these subtle vagarities with such musical intensity you want to hold your breath. Poignant suspensions, poignant dissonances, grind away like a delicate wine on the tip of the tongue. The harmonic style derives from Bill Evans in its transparency and daring, in the execution of which, Carrothers, foot on the soft pedal, applies a soft pressure to the keys, making them yield like soft putty.

Stewart began the show by establishing a sharply articulated martial rhythm on the suspended cymbal which was to suture together a remarkable number of rhythmic and harmonic magnetic fields. Talk about your visceral response. There were so many cross rhythms each seemed to focus on a different organ, your heart pulled one way, your liver another, your stomach, kidneys, etc., etc., all drawn in different directions. Through it all was a sense of chamber music as fine as a string quartet, each change calling for an intuitive response, and each response coming so quickly upon the call that they happened almost simultaneously.

Laymen may not fully appreciate what prodigious music making is going on here, though everyone hears it and reacts with the same heart. These guys are making it up as they go along, separately, and together in a feat of co- operative music making that goes way beyond the unanimity of, say, figure skating pairs, or even ballet dancers - unless they too are improvising. Stewart, the absolute technical master of rhythmic co-ordination, and Carrothers the absolute technical master of harmonic profundity and keyboard fluency, subjects these masteries to a combined musical imagmation that grasps the music both in its tiny details and in its comprehensive formal coherence, uniting the first note to the last. It's what made Stewart's satiric version of Misty, a tune jazz musicians hate to play almost as much as they despise Feelings, outrageously hilarious. He deadpanned the worn-out melody with sticks hitting the snare drum once for each note in an ultra-square version that convulsed the audience. What made the joke even better was Carrothers' richly subtle and softly-voiced harmonic accompaniment.

These two musicians, barely in their 30s, are already in a category by themselves. They both honor and extend the jazz tradition. And they compel the ear as only the master musicians do.

- Stephen Pedersen -

Minneapolis Tribune - March 28, 1998

Minneapolis/NewYork jazz pianist Carrothers is using the Internet to unleash his very long-awaited trio date with A Band in All Hope, featuring Blue Note recording artist Bill Stewart on drums and alto saxophonist/flutist Anton Denner (ex-Happy Apple). The 1993 recording holds up nicely, and it's bound to be a surprise for Carrothers' fans from his hard-hitting days at the old Artists' Quarter. While he continues to show his ability to ride any zig-zagging swing that Stewart sets down, the pianist has grown into a much more reflective explorer. The trio's unusual no-bass lineup allows for maximum creative space and interesting, easy passage from each angular idea. There's raw emotion in abundance from three adventurous, sensitive soloists playing as one on this set of constantly surprising, unforced expression. Simultaneously, Carrothers has released a collection of quiet, solo piano improvisations and reinterpretations of Civil War-era standards. The richly historical and holy material is a surprisingly apt setting for Carrothers' trademark intensity. His patient development draws new force and meaning from the soul of a bygone time.

- Jim Meyer -

Le Jazz Internet Magazine - May, 1998

What a great idea. Bill Carrothers, long a journeyman pianist backing any number of jazz stars in New York and elsewhere, has put together an unusual and aurally gripping trio with drummer Bill Stewart and saxophonist and flutist Anton Denner. With no bassist, Carrothers can travel unimpeded through the harmonies, making sure not to neglect the lower register in his two-handed approach. Stewart is with him at every turn with his crisp and creative drumming, and Denner's warmly lyrical
sound centers the playful and inventive romps of the other two. The tunes are an eclectic mix of show tunes and standards with originals by Carrothers and Stewart, ending with a mournful version of Dixie (which seems a natural link with Carrothers' newest effort, a solo recording of Civil War songs). A Band In All Hope is a refreshingly individual band
whose intelligent and irreverent approach is pure jazz.

- Tom Storer -

Jazz - Berman Music Foundation - March, 1998

Pianist Bill Carrothers, with credits that include work with bassist Gary Peacock, guitarist Joe Beck, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, trombonist Curtis Fuller, trumpeter Tim Hagans and saxophonists James Moody and Benny Wallace, says A Band in All Hope is the best band he's ever played with. With his left hand, Carrothers provides the solid bass grounding in this otherwise bassless trio, which also features Anton Denner on alto sax and flute and Bill Stewart on drums. Carrothers also establishes the mood with his dark harmonies on such original tunes as "Waltz Macabre" and standards like "You Go to My Head" and a downright spooky rendition of "Dixie". But it is the group dialogue and surefootedness of A Band in All Hope that make the three-way confluence so tantalizing. The playing is top-notch, but it is the offbeat arrangements that give new life to Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz" and Johnny Greene's "Body and Soul." Time after time, the players seem to read each other's minds, go off on unison tangents and return, magically together, to the theme. That is especially evident on "You Go to My Head," where the melody is profoundly transformed before being reconstructed.

- Tom Ineck -

Lee Lo's Jazz Newsletter - April, 1998

Recorded in 1993, this disc by three extremely talented members of jazz's "thirty something" generation (BILL STEWART percussion and ANTON DENNER on alto sax and flute) remains extremely fresh. Carrothers, another Minnesota native, is from the reharmonizing/deharmonizing school of piano playing of which Marc Copland is a key trailblazer. The CD title is word play on Dante's famous Canto 3 from The Inferno: "Abandon all hope ye who enter here." Carrothers plays with melodies in the same impish but ultimately captivating way. Denner's ethereal yet rooted sax is equally arresting. Bill Stewart is probably the most recogriized name of this trio and he is clearly one of the most talented drummers to come on the scene in a long long while. Carrothers and Stewart originals make up most of the material on this disc, but Carrothers is savvy enough to open with the familiar dance number, Irving Berlin's "Puttin'On The Ritz." He also plays such recognizable tunes as Johnny Green's "Body and Soul" and J. Fred Coots' "You Go To My Head" and concludes with "Dixie." (Carrothers has also recently recorded an album of 19th century American music.) The melodies are not recognizable for too long, to be sure, but Carrothers has such capable hands and supple imagination that a listener with open ears is guaranteed to be transported to the very special realm of new harmony to which only the very best artists-musicians have the keys.

- Lee Lowenfish -

Now Hear This - Minneapolis Tribune, April 12, 1996

Background: In his midteens, Carrothers was backing many international jazz stars - Charlie Rouse, Dewey Redman, Billy Higgins - at the old Artists' Quarter in Minneapolis. From 1988 to '93, he lived in New York, and he met other members of the group. Stewart, an Iowa native, has achieved considerable recognition in New York, touring regularly with guitarist John Scofield and recording for Blue Note Records (he invited Carrothers on his debut CD, which also featured tenor hero Joe Lovano). Recently he's been part of the traveling Blue Note All-Stars with Greg Osby, Javon Jackson and Kevin Hays. Former New Yorker Denner attended William Paterson College in Wayne, N.J., with Stewart. Denner has backed many jazz artists, and toured with Carol Channing and Rita Moreno. A Band in All Hope played the Knitting Factory and other places in New York before Carrothers moved back to the Twin Cities. Tonight's gig is the beginning of a Midwest tour.

Concept: Carrothers once was known as a ferocious hard-bopper. But since his return, he's matured into a more sensitive and innovative pianist, with increasingly classical overtones. "I can't do quick tempos for four hours a night like when I was 20," he said. "That's not where I am at now. The big turning point for me was when my girlfriend turned me onto Shirley Horn, who plays all her tempos really slow.... Learning that other side of playing slowly just opens your mind to so many possibilities. That's when I went from trying to impress people to really trying to move them." The trio plays whatever style the musicians wish: swinging numbers, gentler meditations, twisted show tunes and radically reinvented standards. And it has no bassist, which allows Carrothers a lot more harmonic space, while challenging the drummer and pianist to move the pieces in more creative ways. Stewart has "got great time, but he can play free with the best of them," Carrothers said. "He's got a great way of relating tension on drums, so things I try to do harmonically he can translate rhythmically. And he plays piano and writes well, too. But Anton's the glue of the group. He's so lyrical, and very romantic in his playing. Bill and I are a little edgier, but Anton brings it all together."

Review: Beauty needn't be boring, and this formidable trio proves it. Stewart is considered one of the most creative young drummers in all of jazz, a non-conformist who can hold a groove, or remold it at will. Carrothers' great melodic and harmonic command allows him to expand tunes from within, rather than bending the pieces out of shape to prove a point. Likewise, Denner searches for the beauty inherent in a tune.

- Jim Meyer -

Live Music - The New Review Of Records

Bill Carrothers (piano), Anton Denner (alto sax), and Bill Stewart (drums) play in a harmonic style so extended and adventurous as to seem always on the verge of atonality, yet their music retains structure and grounding. Though this is a cooperative, and though Denner's pure singing tone and Stewart's off-kilter pointillism were excellent, the most exciting aspect was Carrothers' lushly tart reharmonizations of the Civil War tune "Tenting On The Old Campground." Elsewhere, he favored bass ostinatos, and dark, bell-like, brooding chords, like a cocktail pianist on ludes and LSD.

- Steve Holtje -

Review / Music - New York Times, April 29, 1993

The night properly took off with a trio called A Band In All Hope, featuring Bill Carrothers on piano, Anton Denner on saxophone and Bill Stewart on drums. They played an odd selection of songs - "Puttin' on the Ritz", "Tenting on the Old Campground", and "Little Melonae" - all of which had been totally reharmonized, with Mr. Carrothers' silvery chords providing a firm, modern base for the improvisations. Where most bassless trios function like groups missing a bassist, A Band In All Hope seemed complete, partly because of Mr. Carrothers' steady left hand and the intelligence of his harmonic choices.

- Peter Watrous -


   bill carrothers  
 bill stewart a band in all hope  anton denner

Back to the First Circle