Eric Alexander / James Carter
Chris Jazz Cafe / Zanzibar Blue
June 2, 2006 / June 3, 2006
If Eric Alexander and James Carter are not the top two tenor players of their generation, they are both certainly in the running. Both played in Philadelphia on June 2nd and 3rd, 2006.
Carter, a native of Detroit, possessing dazzling virtuosity on soprano, tenor, baritone saxophone and flute, played at Zanzibar Blue with his regular band of Gerard Gibbs (organ) and Leonard King (drums). Carter took the stage, announced the set list, and then proceeded to tear the house down. The band's cohesiveness was evident on every time change as they moved effortlessly from a whisper to a shout in a single note or with a subtle glance.
Starting off on soprano sax, Carter began the set with an extended blowing session that lasted almost ten minutes before allowing King and Gibbs to take over. Propulsive does not even begin to describe King's drumming style; he creates a cacophony of sound, which on this night threatened to almost overwhelm the music. Gibbs displayed a much keener ear on organ and in his exchanges with Carter provided some of the evening's high points. Switching to tenor on Eddie "Lockjaw Davis' "Bingle Domingo, Carter and the band deconstructed and extended the tune to take it places it had never been before.
Carter's flamboyant style (which seems to draw detractors and admirers in equal numbers) uses every device at his disposal, from false fingerings, double tonguing, honks, to squeals and beyond. The most often heard criticism is that Carter showboats, seeming almost unwilling to take the horn out of his mouth. Conversely, even with the abundance of notes in his solos, his runs are lyrical and never repetitive. He is a master of every instrument he plays, which on this evening included the flute and soprano and tenor saxophone. As effortlessly as Carter moves between instruments, he equally veers from a ballad to burner, from bop to free jazz. His technical genius and dynamic personality cannot be overstated. Yet in spite all of the dazzle, at least for this particular evening, the music somehow failed to captivate and engage the listener.
The same night at Chris Jazz Café, Eric Alexander was joined by one of his frequent cohorts, trumpeter John Swana, along with Lucas Brown (organ) and Doug Hirlinger (drums).
Alexander, who possesses a warm, muscular tone, has become one of the top tenor players in modern jazz. His recent releases reflect his evolution as a player and his maturity as a composer. He forgoes histrionics. Instead he comes straight at you, a mix of Rollins and Coleman, with a splash of Coltrane tossed in for good measure, but he clearly has established his own sound.
The second set this night featured five standards and had Alexander and Sawna staying pretty close to the harmonies of the tunes. While a night like this is not conducive to providing satisfying arrangements, it does offer plenty of space for solos, and Alexander and Swana each took turns flashing their chops.
The Wes Montgomery tune "Full House was put into overdrive by the rhythm section of Brown and Hirlinger and then taken over with some blistering runs by Alexander and Swana.
A sign of the respect accorded Alexander was reflected in fact that the audience included a number of local jazz musicians. They were rewarded with an impromptu jam session. School was in session with Alexander and Swana the teachers on Lee Morgan's "Speedball. Musicians who joined them on stage to close out the night included Ken Fowser (tenor), Giga Shane (guitar) and Daud Al-Bakar (trumpet).
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