Tag Archives: james carter

Heads Up: Detroit Jazz Festival 2013

The 34th annual Detroit Jazz Festival is this weekend in Motown. Detroit’s been picked on quite a bit these last few years, particularly in recent months, but the Motor City continues to thrive. One of the ways in which the city reigns is by continuing to host, and somehow continually improving, the world’s largest free jazz festival. And it’s not simply the fact that it’s both large and free that’s notable, but the fact that it features such a powerful lineup. (2013’s lineup is here.) I have neither the time nor space to go through all the artists individually, but suffice it to say that if you’re anywhere near Detroit this Friday-Monday you MUST head over and catch an act or three!

I’m especially excited this year – more so than any other time I’ve attended – as some of the headliners seem as though they’ve been curated to meet my tastes. Usually I’m seeing DMB at The Gorge over Labor Day Weekend, but not this year. I was originally deeply regretful about opting out of this year’s pilgrimage, but the DJF lineup made me quickly forget about it. Three of my favorite saxophonists will be performing, and regular readers of this blog should recognize at least a couple names.

DAVE LIEBMAN — The Master is performing three sets this weekend: one each with Saxophone Summit, Richie Beirach (duo performance), and Quest (!). If no one else I liked were performing, Lieb’s appearances alone would make this my most anticipated Jazz Fest. Wow. (A couple rare album reviews here and here, and MTH-V appearances here and here. And he is referenced in many other posts throughout this blog. And since Saxophone Summit also features Joe Lovano, here are a few great clips with him.)

CHARLES LLOYD — The saxophonist who always commands with subtle intensity. He’ll be performing a set featuring guitarist Bill Frisell immediately preceding Saxophone Summit Saturday night. (A Lloyd post is here.)

JAMES CARTER — Hometown hero and perhaps the greatest living technician of the instrument. (A couple Carter-centric posts are here and here.)

Those aside, I’m also quite looking forward to John Scofield’s Überjam Band and a host of others. You’d have to shell out a lot of bread to see just a couple of the acts that will be performing this weekend, but the fact that so many artists will be performing at a FREE festival is almost incomprehensible. As mentioned above, you must attend if at all possible…

MTH-V: Montreux Redux

As mentioned in my previous post, I saw a burnin’ lineup at Montreux Jazz Festival‘s Miles Davis Hall this past July. For this “return post” in the MTH-V series, I thought I’d feature some live clips of those three groups: James Carter Organ Trio, Spectrum Road, and Neneh Cherry & The Thing.

Below is perhaps my favorite single James Carter clip on YouTube. It’s a full concert from Germany in 2004, the year his Organ Trio – with fellow Detroiters Gerard Gibbs and Leonard King – began. (I saw them that spring at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall and they blew the roof off the place.) Since then they’ve been tearing it up across the globe and through two official releases: Out of Nowhere and At The Crossroads. (Those musicians are also featured on Live At Baker’s Keyboard Lounge.) Do watch the full concert if you have time, but if you don’t the first tune alone (Eddie Harris’s “Winter Meeting”) sums it up pretty well, especially Carter’s final chorus. An interesting tidbit from the Montreux performance: Carter eulogized both Whitney Houston and Andy Griffith (whom died that week). He based the opening cadenza for “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone” on Houston’s “Saving All My Love For You,” and then for his last chorus on “JC On The Set” he quotedThe Andy Griffith Show’s theme song over the rhythm changes.

Next up, Spectrum Road. This is a live clip taken about ten days before I saw them. It includes a bit of everything: solos by Reid, Medeski, and Santana, and vocals by Jack Bruce. While Reid may show off a bit more than I’d like, the group works quite well as a unit. And Medeski always brings the madness, of course. Spectrum Road is a tribute to The Tony Williams Lifetime, one of the first fusion bands. If only I had a clip of when John McLaughlin made a surprise appearance at the end of the Montreux set…

Capping off this post, and the Montreux set, is Neneh Cherry & The Thing. This is one of the better, more representative videos I could find with decent audio and video quality. I wasn’t aware of either group, let along their collaboration, before purchasing my ticket. But I can safely say that I’m now a fan and would love to see them again. It’s not for the faint of heart. But it is lovely…

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…