Saxophonist James Carter pays tribute to Billie Holiday on Gardenias for Lady Day. This is the first recording by Carter since his tribute to another jazz icon, Django Reinhardt, on Chasin' the Gypsy. An extremely creative and adaptable musician, Carter's multi-reed talents are valuable and welcomed additions. The new rhythm section of pianist John Hicks, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Victor Lewis is bolstered by Greg Cohen and Cassius Richmond's graceful orchestral arrangements. The music for the album includes four compositions from Billie Holiday's repertoire, "(I Wonder) Where Our Love Has Gone," "I'm In A Low Down Groove," "Strange Fruit," and "More than You Know," with four other tunes Carter believes would have suited the late singer, "Gloria," "Sunset," "A Flower Is a Lonesome Thing," and "Indian Summer."
It is difficult to gauge exactly how much of Holiday's essence is actually captured here. Focusing primarily on Carter's wide-ranging abilities, Gardenias For Lady Day celebrates a bygone era in jazz, grandiose in scale, capable of capturing any and every emotion. "Gloria," the Don Byas' tune, is given an elegant, evocative string arrangement, with Carter's fluid tenor work pacing a nostalgic dance. "I'm In a Low Down Groove" finds Carter playing baritone, tenor, and F mezzo saxophones with such distinction on each that the tune never becomes a tepid showcase for his talents. Instead, each horn provides a voice, its own wail, its own cry, and its own interpretation of the blues. On "Strange Fruit," the most daring and challenging piece on the album, the images are ghastly, as Miche Braden provides the vocals to a horrific chapter in American history.
Presented in a hybrid SACD format, the sound on Gardenias for Lady Day is exceptionally clear, allowing the listener to better appreciate Carter as he escorts a spiritual, graceful beauty that, on second thought, merges with Billie Holiday.
Personnel: James Carter- saxophones, bass and contrabass clarinets; John Hicks- piano; Peter Washington- bass; Victor
Lewisdrums; Myung Hi Kim, Ann Kim, Lisa Kim, Sarah Kim, Sharon Park, Sharon Yamada- violins; Rob Rinehart, Tom
Rosenthalviola; Jeanne LeBlanc, Bruce Wang, Sarah Seiver, Eileen Moon, Mina Smith, Elizabeth Dyson- cello; Phil
Myers, Erik RalsekFrench horn; Miche Braden- vocals