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James Carter Organ Trio: At The Crossroads

Mark F. Turner By

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No one brings more swagger and flavor with their playing than multi-reedman James Carter. A zealous nod to the blues, gospel, and jazz, he looks back to the music's rich history and presses onward in At the Crossroads with his organ trio including organist Gerard Gibbs and drummer Leonard King Jr., who have performed together for nearly ten years

Carter has been sometimes criticized as being too loud and showy but he's a unequivocal virtuoso, with encyclopedic releases that have spanned everything from a Django Reinhardt tribute in Chasin' The Gypsy (Atlantic, 2000) to classical music excursions in Caribbean Rhapsody (Emarcy, 2011), with composer Roberto Sierra. But Carter's a post-bop bluesman at heart with the ability to take it to the streets while providing moments of unmistakable brilliance.

An unabashed showman, Carter puts down his unmistakable skronks, wails, and incendiary alto bursts in the thrilling "Lettuce Toss Yo' Salad" or lush soprano sonorities in the ballad "Misterio." While the command over his instruments is remarkable, his trio mates who are also Detroit natives, warrant equal respect. There are shades of Richard "Groove" Holmes and Jimmy McGriff in Gibb's raspy organ that's got both sophistication and a little grease under the fingernails. And drummer Leonard King Jr.'s traps are on point at every twist and turning cadence, bringing the rhythmic pulse in addition to providing vocals and insightful liner notes.

At the Crossroads profits not only from the trio's bond but a fine roster of guests that includes veteran blues and Broadway singer Miche Braden and versatile guitarist Brandon Ross among others. It remembers its roots when Braden brings the gospel in "Tis The Old Ship of Zion" or highlighting Duke Ellington's majesty in "Come Sunday," sung by King. The house shakes, rattles, and rolls in "The Walking Blues" and staggers straight out of the juke joint in "Ramblin Blues," a seedy place that youngsters are told not to frequent. As the elders used to say, "This is grown folk's business." The music is likewise.

The set finishes with a hard groove, a remake of World Saxophone Quartet founder Julius Hemphill's "Hard Blues" that's even funkier than the original, with a nasty organ vamp, a grinding backbeat, and Carter and Ross trading heat like an imaginary meeting between Hemphill and Jimi Hendrix. At the Crossroads is a ten-year celebration of Carter's organ trio, where the elements of history, the present, and the future share a common bond.

Track Listing: Oh Gee; JC Off The Set; Aged Pain; The Walking Blues; My Whole Life Through; Walking The Dog; Lettuce Toss Yo Salad; Mysterio; Ramblin Blues; Come Sunday; Tis The Old Ship of Zion; The Hard Blues.

Personnel: James Carter: saxophones; Leonard King Jr.: drums, vocals (10); Gerard Gibbs: organ; Miche Braden: vocals (4, 11); Brandon Ross: guitar (4, 12); Bruce Edwards: guitar (1, 3, 6) Keyon Harrold: trumpet (4, 10); Vincent Chandler: trombone (4, 10); Eli Fountain: tambourines(10).

Title: At The Crossroads | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: EmArcy

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