What the intelligencia are saying about "Keep Your Sunny Side Up"...

by John Kelman

Bill Carrothers is one funny guy. One look at his website is enough to establish that, but for further proof one need only look as far as Keep Your Sunny Side Up. That’s not to say Carrothers can’t be pensively lyrical or downright abstract. But on this follow-up to I Love Paris (Pirouet, 2005), Carrothers demonstrates a near mischievous playfulness as he deconstructs a number of well- and lesser-known standards.

The first of two versions of the title track opens with bassist Ben Street quoting Thelonious Monk. It’s an appropriate start, as Carrothers turns the familiar tune on its side with a slap-dash approach that’s referential in its idiosyncrasy but entirely personal in its application. Street and drummer Ari Hoenig are the perfect choices for this trio, making it clear that not only can they follow Carrothers' challenges, they can present some of their own as well.

“My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time” gets an equally jocular reading. Carrothers delivers an historical cross-section of jazz piano, bringing together hints of ragtime and stride with a free style that becomes increasingly absurd as the tune unfolds (complete with wailing cat in the background). If Jaco Pastorius defined Punk Jazz, then Carrothers clearly has his own subgenre: Slapstick Jazz. Hoenig and Street are right with Carrothers throughout, from vaudeville to a fervent rock beat towards the end that ultimately concludes on a gentler note.

Carrothers shifts the mood on an introspective look at Joni Mitchell’s “Roses Blue,” with Hoenig’s soft, train- like rhythm on brushes maintaining a consistent pulse throughout. “London by Night” is an elegant waltz, with Carrothers demonstrating his skill at building solos that never lose sight of a tune’s melodic center. Street’s solo is equally spare and respectful.

“Salty Peanuts” is a subdued freely improvised duet between Carrothers and Hoenig: evidence that it’s possible to pull constructs out of the ether and give them concrete shape. Carrothers’ sole original composition, “Church of the Open Air,” is an almost painfully beautiful tone poem that ebbs and flows with majestic grace.

That most pieces are in the three- to- five-minute range speaks volumes for this trio’s economical approach. “You and the Night and the Music” is nearly unrecognizable, driven by Carrothers’ stop-start beginning and abstract ideas, and Hoenig’s military style snare work.

Ending with a soft reprise of the title track, Keep Your Sunny Side Up is another strong and varied entry from Carrothers—an artist whose musical identity is clearly defined by his equally complex off-stage persona.


The New York Times
April 16, 2007

Throughout the new album by the pianist Bill Carrothers, somber lyricism gives in to playful fizz. It happens on “You and the Night and the Music,” when Mr. Carrothers fixates on a trilling figure until it sounds delirious. It happens on “Say It Isn’t So,” which he delivers as a frenzied tease. And it happens on “I Can’t Begin to Tell You,” during a round of quote-riddled four-bar exchanges with his drummer, Ari Hoenig.

As the title implies, “Keep Your Sunny Side Up” is a bright-sounding album, though there’s a sonorous depth to many of its tracks. Mr. Carrothers, Mr. Hoenig and the bassist Ben Street uphold a highly responsive trio dynamic, full of pregnant pauses and casual interruptions. In places, notably on “Church of the Open Air” — the only song credited solely to Mr. Carrothers — the group reaches for a serene and handsome abstraction.

There are just as many shadows as sunbeams on the album, though they tend not to make as striking an impression. It’s not that Mr. Carrothers doesn’t manage melancholy convincingly enough; harmonically it suits him fine. But exuberant interplay is this trio’s strong suit, and the best thing about the album. 


The Irish Times
by Ray Comiskey

There's a vein of exuberant mischief running through the latest CD from this great pianist, evident not only in the offbeat choices (the title track, heard in two very different versions, is one), but also in the way some are Monkishly demolished. A few standards, obscure or otherwise, get a refreshingly mock-heroic workover. But there are contrasts, too, in the sombre beauty of Roses Blue, Carrothers' Church Of The Open Air, the swinging I Can't Begin To Tell You (another offbeat choice) and the impressionistic opening of The Night We Called It a Day, which presages a superb piano solo. Carrothers and drummer Air Hoenig, kindred spirits who egg each other on, share remarkable chemistry (Salty Peanuts is a spontaneous duo performance) and Ben Street (bass) completes a trio so flexible it can turn on a dime.


Jazz Police
Elegant Mayhem - Bill Carrothers Keeps His “Funny Side” Up
by Andrea Canter

If there is one thing predictable about internationally acclaimed pianist Bill Carrothers, it’s his unpredictability. His recorded output (now totaling sixteen releases as leader) reflects respect for classic repertoire and uncompromising experimentation in a range of configurations with diverse casts of collaborators. A recent fascination with military history led to several projects inspired by the Civil War (The Blues and the Greys) and World War I (Armistice 1918); in 2005 he turned his attention to swing-era standards (I Love Paris), albeit delivered in unconventional terms, while only a few months later, he released a trio recording of spontaneous improvisations (Shine Ball). Now Carrothers takes another swing at convention with Keep Your Sunnyside Up (Pirouet), a trio set that—predictably--brings his unique deconstructions and odd-ball humor to familiar and less familiar mainstream targets. 

A protégé of the late Bobby Peterson, Excelsior, MN native Bill Carrothers has a wealth of technical and artistic devices which seem to fuse Debussy and Jarrett with sprinklings of Bill Evans and plenty of humor. He will caress the keys one moment and then stuff his shoe into the innards to dampen the hammers. He can explode with two-handed runs, fleet sequences of chords, sudden changes in dynamics and rhythm, and well-placed pizzicato twangs on the strings. And unlike some of his highly creative contemporaries, Carrothers achieves his sonic dramas with only acoustic manipulations. Noted John Kelman (All About Jazz) regarding I Love Paris, “Carrothers is a harmony-rich player with an uncanny ability to see the greater potential of both hands in concert. While some pianists are fairly linear with their right hand and eke out accompaniment with their left... he has a vivid sense of larger voicings, like British pianist John Taylor, sometimes creating eight- and nine-part harmonies that move smoothly, and in ways that makes every subsequent note feel perfectly logical, yet somehow unpredictable.” 

On Keep Your Sunnyside Up, Carrothers keeps both hands busy as if a one-man band, yet provides plenty of play space for his same-minded cohorts, bassist Ben Street and drummer Ari Hoenig. Ben Street’s affinity for diversity and experimentation grew out of his early studies with Weather Report bassist, Miroslav Vitous, and subsequent collaborations with Sam Rivers, Ben Monder and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Described by Jazz Times as “one of the most maniacally obsessive, spasmodic and musical drummers in jazz,” Ari Hoenig is the perfect foil for Bill Carrothers. A long-standing member of the Kenny Werner and Jean-Michel Pilc Trios, his wide-ranging collaborations have included Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny, Chris Potter and Mike Stern.

On Keep Your Sunnyside Up, the Bill Carrothers Trio mixes work and play, mayhem and elegance, and makes it all seem both spontaneous and logical. Only two tracks feature original compositions (Bill’s “Church of the Open Air” and his joint effort with Hoenig, “Salty Peanuts”), while the rest runs the gamut from the gay title track, Joni Mitchell’s “Roses Blue” and Matt Dennis’ “The Night We Called It a Day,” to the Monk classic, “Evidence,” with the familiar “You and the Night and the Music” and a less familiar Irving Berlin “Say It Isn’t So” along the way. It makes little difference, however, if a tune is familiar or not, as Carrothers and company deconstruct whatever lies in their path, often within the first bar. And with seemingly long pauses between tracks, the listener, like the musicians, can easily switch gears to greet the flow of new ideas.

The title track starts and ends the recording. For the opening, a romping bass and drum precede Carrothers’ entrance with widely spaced chords, leading to a sparsely phrased melody with dissonant extensions. The decomposition is furthered by Carrothers’ playful scales running up and down the keyboard, alternating single-note lines with clanging chords while Hoenig punctuates throughout with thumps and bangs. Carrothers brings a characteristic thick texture to his role, playing what seem to be many parts yet always integrated with the bass and drum. As the final track reprise, the tune is give a more balladic, somber treatment, as if poking fun at the whole concept—the sunny side versus dark side, one becoming the other, yin and yang. On the finale, Street is key to holding it together while Hoenig adds some faint scratches to close the set with a hint of chaos.

The two original tracks share some bluesy elements. On “Salty Peanuts,” Hoenig sets out alone, Carrothers joining with a single-note line running across left and right hands. With remote references to Parker’s “Salt Peanuts,” the dissonant lower register suggests the blues as they roll to the finish. In contrast, Carrothers’ “Church of the Open Air” is a majestic hymn, largely a piano/drum duet raised by elegantly chaotic percussion and very subtle bass accompaniment.

Thelonious Monk seems to be lurking around every note throughout much of the recording, and overtly on “Evidence.” Fast grooves are established immediately by Street and Hoenig, Street maintaining a steady pulse while Hoenig constantly interrupts. Carrothers gathers his most Monkish resources while Hoenig turns up the heat, as conversation erupts among the threesome.

Working mostly in the piano’s lower register, Carrothers gives this track a dark tone with increasing intensity, all over the keyboard. Hoenig contributes sinister percussive combinations, while Street is ever-present with a furious pulse that takes command in the final chorus.

The remainder of the set is pure Carrothers—a crazy quilt of ideas that take logical shape in conversational fragments. “I Can’t Begin to Tell You” (J. Monaco) has a gentle and lyrical opening verse with just enough swing, thanks to Hoenig’s brushes and Street’s laid-back bass lines. Carrothers takes the second verse on a spinning climb around the melodic core, slipping and sliding with scampering embellishments, extracting from each chord a new mini-melody. Street’s solo follows suit in exploring the possibilities of each phrase, while Hoenig controls the conversation with brief outbursts. Carrothers’ return to the melody provides an elegant finish. 

A keyboard ostinato introduces Joni Mitchell’s “Roses Blue,” Carrothers providing an exquisite take on the melody with a Romantic, classical sheen, like casting a Chopin prelude for 21st century listening. Street keeps the pendulum swinging gently in the background, while Hoenig’s cymbals create a light, airy veil even as Carrothers begins his lush improvisation. Street takes a mournful solo; Hoenig’s brushes never recede while Carrothers drops short, dark phrases in-between the bass tones. Sounding like an amalgam of Bill Evans and Fred Hersch, here Carrothers seems free of his trademark quirks, overflowing with a caressing touch, conjuring a choir of small bells. In a similar lacey vein, Carrothers gives “London by Night (C. Coates) a slow swing, particularly anchored by Street, as if taking a page from the Great American Songbook and writing a silent lyric. Here the trio interplay is reminiscent of the great piano trios (Evans, Hersch, Werner).

V. Mizzy’s “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time” follows the above quieter tracks with a bluesy interlude that strongly hints of stride and even rag, a polyrhythmic tour of jazz history as each musician goes in a slightly different direction, giving the track more drive and lots of sonic interest. Like kids turned loose at recess, Carrothers uncorks a Fats Wallerish piano while Street and Hoenig also have some fun, and there are faint background vocalizations that suggest cats at play.

“The Night We Called It a Day” (Matt Dennis) starts with a series of short somber phrases from Carrothers, his abstract solo piano supported by the subtle, spare accompaniment of drum and bass. Street provides an equally abstract solo with less subtle punctuations. Over the final minute or two, the complexity of the group’s interactions increases, the lyricism more elaborated, only to recede into a more introspective conclusion. Irving Berlin’s “Say It Isn’t So” has a quirky beginning with a stuttering series of chords and quick jerky phrases from Carrothers, who starts and stops in unison with Street. Buried beneath is a swinging melodic element but Carrothers isn’t about to let a normal pulse take over, instead creating what sounds like manually induced zings directly applied to the piano strings while Hoenig creates his own wild palette of sound with the drum kit. There’s a fragment of the melody here and there, but by and large this one is turned inside out into a totally new shape. On Arthur Schwartz’ classic, “You and the Night and the Music,” Carrothers repeats the opening phrase a few times before hinting at the next experiment. Street and Hoenig add their own mayhem, the original line all but obliterated, sliced into fragments with jagged edges. Hoenig falls into a militaristic pulse that sharply counters Carrothers’ on and off meter. 

Once again, Bill Carrothers, here in the perfect company of sympathetic explorers, Ben Street and Ari Hoenig, has taken mostly familiar stories and rewritten plots, created new characters, and scrambled time and space, sometimes with a grin, sometimes with grace, always with incredible facility and artistry. There are few minds in music that can translate such divergent ideas into coherent reality, few who can create such unpredictable logic. And make it all fun.


Rondo (Germany)
Werner Stiefele

Vergesst die Schemata. Jeder Song hat seinen eigenen Charakter, und manchmal verlangt auch jede Strophe ihren eigenen Ausdruck. So lässt sich das Credo des Trios um den amerikanischen Pianisten Bill Carrothers beschreiben. Weder er noch der Bassist Ben Street und der Drummer Ari Hoenig begnügen sich mit den gängigen Formeln der Trio-Interpretation. Elf Stücke bilden das Repertoire; den Titelsong gibt es – wie eine Klammer – als Eröffnungs- und Schlussnummer in zwei völlig unterschiedlichen Interpretationen. Die erste symbolisiert heiteren Tatendrang, während die zweite – wesentlich langsamere – wie ein besinnlicher Abendausklang wirkt. Thelonious Monks "Evidence" verliert bei diesen dreien seine ursprünglich sperrige Atmosphäre und wird zum vehement voranpreschenden Parforceritt, in dem sich die Varianten des Monk’schen Themas zu dichten Wirbeln im Strom der Rhythmusgruppe verwandeln. Aus "My Dreams Are Getting Better All The Time" machen sie eine fröhliche Zirkusnummer mit freien Zwischenspielen und überraschenden Wendungen. Sakral wirkt dagegen Carrothers’ "Church Of The Open Air". Dieses Trio verzichtet auf all die modischen Soundspielereien, auf die Nähe zum Pop und dessen Rhythmen. Carrothers, Street und Hoenig beherrschen die altmeisterliche Kunst, ihr Spiel auf dem Instrument so fein zu nuancieren, dass die unverfälschten Klänge einen Kosmos an Gefühlen öffnen – von feinen, fast brüchigen Tönen bis zu festen, die eine Passage so fest verankern, dass die übrigen Töne frei in den Raum wehen können. Und dabei haben sie so viel Witz, dass die Einleitung von "Say It Isn’t So" wie in der Wut herausgeschleudertes Stottern wirkt, bevor eine Schimpfkanonade und Ratlosigkeit folgen. Dem Trio gelang ein Meisterwerk, das angenehm ins Ohr geht und dabei enorme Tiefe besitzt.

Toma Jazz (Spain)
Ricardo Arribas y Sergio Zeni

Carrothers vuelve a editar en el sello de Jason Seizer y lo hace una vez más en trío, tras aquel I love Paris (2005) con Nicolas Thys y Dre Pallemaerts. Este disco, registrado un mes después del estupendo No Choice con Marc Copland, podría prejuzgarse como un trabajo más o menos rutinario. Nada más alejado de la realidad; tras su amable apariencia se esconde una nueva confirmación de la creatividad y el gusto exquisito de Bill Carrothers. 

Sin necesidad de parapetarse tras planteamientos arriesgados, su deliciosa elegancia nos sorprende con mil y un detalles a través de páginas como la optimista “I Can’t Begin To Tell You”, las vivaces, juguetonas “My dreams are getting better all the time” y “Say It Isn’t So” o la delicada y vibrante “London by night”. 

Street y Hoenig realizan un soberbio trabajo para redondear el sonido de un trío de maneras clásicas y trasfondo punzante, interactuando siempre con frescura y rigor. Un disco redondo, alegre y apetitoso como ese huevo frito que evoca la portada.


Jazz Dimensions (Germany)
Hermann Mennenga

Dass der amerikanische Pianist Bill Carrothers ein exzellenter Vertreter seines Fachs ist, ist keine wirklich neue Feststellung. Und auch, dass er in Deutschland immer noch zu den großen Unbekannten zählt, dürfte ebenfalls keine bahnbrechende Erkenntnis sein. Das ist nach wie vor schade, denn wie kein zweiter interpretiert Carrothers Standards, Popsongs und eigenes Material mit unvergleichlicher Virtuosität und – Ironie

"Does humor belong in music?" fragte schon einst Frank Zappa, und in seinem wie auch im Falle von Bill Carrothers ist diese Frage eindeutig mit "Ja!" zu beantworten – ein "Ja!" mit Ausrufezeichen. Niemand in der gegenwärtigen Szene vermag diese unvergleichlich hintersinnigen Gedankenspiele augenzwinkernder auf die schwarz-weißen Tasten zu übertragen als Bill Carrothers. 

Dabei ist die Auswahl seiner Songs für die neue CD "Keep Your Sunny Side Up" alles andere als beliebig. Einige Titel sind echte Neuentdeckungen, andere sind schon vielfach gespielt und abgenutzt worden, doch Carrothers verleiht den Stücken im Verbund mit Bassist Ben Street und Schlagzeuger Ari Hoenig neuen Glanz. 

Dieser Glanz ist allerdings trügerisch – wer hier meint, den Glanz alter Tage wiederzufinden, der wird bald merken, dass er einem Betrüger aufgesessen ist. Modern, eigenwillig, humorvoll und voller überraschender Wendungen präsentiert sich "Keep Your Sunny Side Up" Nach "I love Paris" ist dies der zweite große Wurf von Bill Carrothers für das kleine Münchener Label Pirouet.