Underrated pianist Bill Carrothers headlines the Green Mill | Bleader

Underrated pianist Bill Carrothers headlines the Green Mill

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Pianist Bill Carrothers isn't well-known even among aficionados, but to my ears he's as good as anyone in mainstream jazz. A native of Edina, Minnesota, he moved to New York in 1988 and gave the hustle a go, building some lasting musical relationships in the process. He soon soured on city life, though, and retreated first to Woodstock and later to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where he still lives.

Carrothers gigs regularly around the U.S. and in Europe, but his profile remains unjustly low, in part because he lives in a relatively out-of-the-way place. Since settling in Michigan he's made a series of low-key records for his own Bridge Boy Music imprint, including several that wed his deep interest in history to his love for jazz--in separate collections he improvises on music associated with the Civil War and World War I.

He's also released a series of superb trio recordings for the German label Pirouet. Home Row, a 1992 session unissued till last year, features bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Bill Stewart (a frequent collaborator), and Keep Your Sunny Side Up, with bassist Ben Street and drummer Ari Hoenig, brilliantly demonstrates Carrothers's skill at subverting standard jazz-piano language with precise rhythmic commotions and a wide-eared harmonic sensibility.

The trio he brings to the Green Mill this Friday and Saturday appears on another Pirouet date called I Love Paris (2006); his Belgian rhythm section in this group consists of bassist Nicolas Thys (who recently released the solid but unremarkable quintet outing Virgo on the same label) and drummer Dre Pallemaerts. The album isn't quite as spiky and dynamic as Carrothers's best work, but the performances are hard to find fault with.

The pianist sounds particularly strong on a new date called Zeitgeist (Fresh Sound New Talent), led by Irish drummer Kevin Brady, an admirer who asked Carrothers to visit the UK for some live dates. Along with bassist Dave Redmond they formed an easy bond. Redmond and Brady each contribute a tune, but the strongest material comes from Carrothers--the aptly titled "Waltz Macabre," for instance, presents contrasting simultaneous vibes, like sprightly vs. dark and graceful vs. jagged. Carrothers never really grandstands, and he and the other players achieve a stunning equilibrium, allowing the group to move as one.

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