Kevin Brady Trio, featuring Bill Carrothers
It is nearly three years since drummer Kevin Brady formed his current trio with fellow Dubliner Dave Redmond and the mercurial American pianist Bill Carrothers. That the group has developed and sustained a deep musical relationship across this span, with four national tours and two first-rate recordings to its credit, is particularly noteworthy as Carrothers lives in the rugged, distant reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, far from the urban centres where jazz usually flourishes and farther still from Ireland.
But this collaboration transcends geography just as its music transcends genre. The trio’s first record, Common Ground, one of the top jazz issues of 2008, documented the sensitive feel these musicians have for each other’s playing and for the harmonic and rhythmic challenges they set for themselves. Zeitgeist builds on their ever-growing sense of common purpose and is full of surprising moments that run against the grain of expectation, eschewing cliché and exploring musical territory that is broad and compelling.
The atmospheric opening track, ‘Out of the Blue’, written by Brady, is evidence of his maturing compositional sense and offers an ideal platform for the trio’s well-knit, interactive approach. Likewise, bassist Redmond’s ‘Big Mouth’ is a harmonically probing tune that seems to define itself as it goes along. Both Irishmen are writing with the assurance and sense of adventure that has marked their playing for many years.
Most of the tunes on the album, however, are written by Carrothers. Well known for his openness to sources many jazz musicians are not even aware of – music-hall songs, hymns, bluegrass, and maritime music, for example – his pieces are informed by a breadth of influence that gives them a dimension and richness well beyond the time-worn structures of post-bop jazz. ‘That Russian Thing’, with its stately, dance-like feel and references to Fiddler on the Roof, and the slyly humorous ‘Waltz Macabre’ give evidence of an interest in European musical forms that rarely intersect with jazz. ‘Home Row’ and ‘In the Wheelhouse’ show us that side of Carrothers that loves Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins. But for me the album’s highlight is the closing track, ‘Gitchee Gumee’, a lovely, lyrical tribute to Lake Superior, the world’s largest fresh-water lake, which presides over Carrothers’ home state of Michigan with the kind of mythic grandeur (cleverly evoked by quotes from Stravinsky’s Firebird) that the Irish Sea holds for Stephen Dedalus in the opening pages of Ulysses.
Anyone who has seen this trio live will know how these three very individual players love to push each other and themselves, and how the result is always exciting and distinctive. Zeitgeist captures that spirit. With eloquent liner notes from Ray Comiskey and distribution and production support from Barcelona’s dynamic Fresh Sound Records, Zeitgeist is a truly international effort, another notch in Brady’s expanding producer’s belt, and a superb collection of music.
Published on 1 August 2009
Kevin Stevens is is a Dublin-based novelist and writer on history, literature, and jazz.