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The James Carter Organ Trio at FlynnSpace

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The James Carter Organ Trio
Flynn Center for the Performing Arts/FlynnSpace
Burlington, VT
February 22, 2014

There were no Motown tunes among the eclectic mix of material that the James Carter Organ Trio played during their early show at FlynnSpace, but shortly into their set, when the threesome hit their stride on a brisk and insistent improvisation during "Melodie Au Crepuscule," lines from Martha & The Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street' came to mind: ..."There'll be swingin' swayin' music playin..."

And surely Flynn artistic director Steve MacQueen was correct when he said the downstairs venue was the place to be this mid-winter evening in Burlington, VT. Saxophonist Carter and his comrades Gerard Gibbs on Hammond B3 organ and Leonard King on drums traversed a remarkable amount of ground in just ninety minutes, displaying dynamics in their choice of material so that the single set, beginning with "Nuages," flowed with as much detail as continuity. Bespeaking their decade together as a unit, the trio's playing was effortless, whether at a full gallop, in sultry Latin mode or on a modified blues. And oftentimes, during "Impromptu" to name just one interval, it was hard to believe the lineup was just three pieces.

Gibbs might well have been the star of the show. With more solo space and almost as much spotlight as the humble yet physically imposing leader, the keyboardist challenged the venue's sound system to accurately carry the heavy organ lines he played and all the more so the bass rhythms he conjured up with the pedals on his instrument. Particularly during "Anouman," by body language alone, Gibbs suggested he might well have relished this facet of his musicianship more than any other.

James Carter, of course, led the band, introducing all the material at the outset of the show and setting the pace and tone of the respective tunes even when counted off and intro'd by King. But for all his technical prowess, James Carter is a player smart enough to know when to bow out, when to step up and when to play short or long solos and phrases to highlight the nuance of a song. Needless to say, he invariably elevates the musicians around him—even those as talented and intuitive as these two partners of his—yet he never imposed his will unnecessarily or allowed his physical presence to overshadow his two band mates.

Thus it was that all three of the Organ Trio had a chance to exhibit their skills and their personality sans gaudy showmanship or technical display for its own sake. The soulful aspect of their connection as a group begged the question of how much rehearsal they really needed to play what the front man posited. Was material alternately new to them or reconfigured in their hands? The music must've sounded to the band as it sounded to the audience, because the capacity crowd responded to the players on the stage as they did to each other: with understated, knowing pleasure. Familiar strains at once reinvented and rediscovered in a refreshingly simple context climaxed with "Artillerie Lourde" which, like the rest of this initial set of two for the evening, sounded equally contemporary and traditional.

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