MTH-V: James Carter

Have I really gone this whole time without featuring James Carter? Shame on me!

I remember the first time I heard Mr. Carter: I was listening to Lazaro Vega’s Jazz From Blue Lake one night in early 2000 (a nightly ritual at that time), and that night’s featured artist was James Carter. Every night featured a different musician, composer, or other theme, but Vega was especially enthusiastic about Carter for a few reasons:
1. He was getting ready to release both Chasin’ The Gypsy and Layin’ In The Cut. You’d be hard pressed to find two more disparate simultaneous releases by the same artist. (Gypsy, a tribute to Django Reinhardt featuring his cousin Regina Carter, is one of my absolute favorite jazz albums. I’ve pretty much had it on repeat for twelve years.)
2. James Carter is a proud Detroit native, and lets everyone know it.
3. Carter attended Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp while a student (although he was featured in faculty groups).  (Read that last link if you have time. Neat stuff.)

I was immediately hooked while listening to Lazaro Vega’s program that night. I’d never heard anyone do anything on the saxophone (just pick one) until that point. And in a number of ways, I’m still waiting to see/hear another saxophonist – jazz, classical, or otherwise – make some of those noises. I really do think that, as a sheer technician of the instrument, James Carter is the top in the world. It’s easy for any musician to recognize his chops, but, saxophonically speaking, he’s on another level – his own level. The horn (saxophone, clarinet, flute, etc.) is simply an extension of him, sounding whatever he hears in his head. Of course, such skill can be a dangerous. In his early work, especially the first two albums, he seemed more interested in showboating than making music. But as his music has matured right along with him – he recorded those first albums at 23 and 24, respectively – and his artistry now complements his talent.

I have most of his albums, and while I’m not as much of a blind fanboy as I was in my late teens and early twenties, JC remains one of my favorites. I’ve seen him (I think) seven times, and each one was a real treat and quite different from the others. He’s one of jazz’s most exciting performers, always giving 110% and bringing the audience TO ITS FEET. (I seriously thought the crowd would lose it at 2004’s Detroit Jazz Festival.)

The following videos should serve as a good sampler for JC newbies. And if you’re a fan, enjoy anyway. 🙂 The rhythm section – all Detroiters – is the same for both videos featuring a full band: Gerard Gibbs, Ralphe Armstrong, Leonard King. (They KILL IT live.) [NOTE: Correction: the pianist for the first video is not Gerard Gibbs, but I believe it is another Detroiter, the late Kenn Cox. Got mixed up with all the different videos I contemplated for this post.)

“(I Wonder) Where Our Love Has Gone”
A trademark opening cadenza.
[NOTE: A studio recording of this same tune can be found on Gardenia’s for Lady Day.  He’s playing Cannonball horns for this performance, not Yamaha, his then-signature brand. And yet he still tears it up…didn’t I just write about this? :)]
*Embedding for this video disabled; please view here – it’s well worth the click*

Burnin’ – Cater’s solo in the latter half (7:27) is indicative of his pedal-to-the-metal live style. Go hard or go home…
[NOTE: A very different but wonderful studio recording can be found on Chasin’ The Gypsy. This recording also features Chicago’s Corey Wilkes.]

Some fun on bass… 🙂

No better way to close it out than with some Yuletide cheer…

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