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Five Classics Plus One

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As a rule, Evans could pick up the program from an elementary school chorus festival and play it inventively and beautifully. This set is no exception.
In 2001, James Carter commanded soprano, tenor, and baritone saxophones on one of the most famous jazz stages in his Detroit hometown, leading keyboardists Gerald Gibbs and Kenn Cox, trumpeter Dwight Adams, bassist Ralphe Armstrong, and drummers Leonard King and Richard “Pistol” Allen, plus special guests, through three hot summer nights.


James Carter
Live at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge
Warner Bros.

Just like he covers every saxophone, Carter covers just about every style, on Live at Baker’s. On the first track, Oscar Pettiford’s “Tricotism,” his playing reshapes a solid groove into an harmonic adventure much further out, like Lou Donaldson and Pharoah Sanders blowing on the same bandstand. On Don Byas’ stately tenor ballad, Carter swings “Free and Easy.”

Carter and guest tenor David Murray lay an ass-whipping on “Freedom Jazz Dance” of which its composer – the lamented, mercurial Eddie Harris – would surely be proud. Dueling on the melody, each inspiring the other to play hotter, while the drummer boils the pot with a hard-rocking snare sound, a true flash of transcendent musical communion from a blazing spirit of live performance. Just great.

Guest tenor Franz Jackson lays a hilarious vocal down in this charmingly unpolished “I Can’t Get Started,” as Carter’s soprano sings sweet and light in contrast to Jackson’s gruff “Satchmo” vocal.

The set ends with Carter, Murray, Jackson and Johnny Griffin ALL honking tenor madness on an electrifying eleven-minute workout through “Foot Pattin’” which showcases bassist Armstrong in a taffy-pull, elastic solo spot. In the true Motor-city tradition of bassist James Jamerson, Armstrong plays the musical fulcrum and unsung hero throughout, hot-wiring “Tricotism” and “Foot Pattin’” then driving them hard to their finish, and sliding deep down into the funk of “Freedom Jazz Dance.”

As for Carter, he looks back in his liner notes at this gig as “a hip and blessed homecoming.” Who says you can’t go home again?


The Ornette Coleman Quartet
Ornette!
Atlantic Jazz Masters

Saxophonist Coleman recorded Ornette! about a month after his milestone Free Jazz sessions, retaining bassist Scott LaFaro, drummer Ed Blackwell, and the amazing Don Cherry on pocket trumpet. Four tracks, each titled with an acronym, from the original 1962 release are supplemented by a fifth, “Proof Readers,” for this reissue.

Ornette! uniquely blends musical tradition and revolution. Most arrangements sound almost conventional now, with melody statements leading into and out of each piece. Coleman honks out a surprising number of familiar-sounding R&B expressions, and Cherry burns through some Dizzy bop chops, in “W.R.U.”

How they employ them is, of course, an entirely different matter. “W.R.U.” also sounds extremely difficult for the rhythm section, particularly the bassist, to navigate, and “R.P.D.D.” sounds like it’s missing its pianist, though not from lack of LaFaro’s rhythmic and harmonic effort.

“C. & D.” scales the session’s peak: LaFaro tumbles through his walking basslines like a gymnast underneath Cherry as Blackwell impeccably rings out time on his cymbals, playing free but never feeling out of control – the freedom of discipline. Although sometimes viewed as musically dour, Coleman sounds positively joyous in its middle section, while Cherry also suggests Kenny Dorham and even the inscrutable Miles.

It is tribute to Coleman’s vision that, four decades after its release, Ornette! does not sound as menacing or subversive as once it might.


The Erroll Garner Trio
The Greatest Garner
Atlantic Jazz Masters

Garner imperturbably played more or less the same piano style throughout his career, blending jazz and pop with a bounce and grin. When Garner rocked a tempo hard, as in this version of “Confessin,’” he nearly sounds the second coming of Fats Waller, completely free from the bebop influence felt by many of Garner’s piano contemporaries.

These 1949 – ’50 sessions coincided with Garner’s engagements at such famous Harlem showplaces as the Three Deuces, the Apollo Theatre, and Birdland, featuring the unparalleled pianist with two different trios. The original release included Garner’s own “Turquoise” and “Impressions” along with Ravel’s “Pavanne,” Debussy’s “Reverie,” and Basie’s “Blue and Sentimental.”

Garner had one of the greatest right hands in jazz history, and each track unleashes stream after stream of pure flowing melody with a touch so sparkling it even polishes more moody pieces such as “Turquoise” and “Impressions” to a lustrous glow. “Confessin’” is an old-time rag-time-y hoot: You can almost listen to the bass like it’s a tuba while Garner rolls the piano keys like he’s strummin’ on the ol’ banjo.

Four bonus tracks include a beautiful “Serenade in Blue” and an amazing nine-minute improvisation on his original “Perpetual Emotion” that should come bearing a “Genius at Work” placard.


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