Saxophonist James Carter is the Derek Jeter of jazz. Like the New York Yankee shortstop, he is long on talent and even longer on attitude. For all of us Yankee-haters, we wait for a Jeter error and grudgingly recognize his physical genius. Similarly, Carter’s attitude has created many a jazz detractor, ready to leap upon any musical miscue. So far there have been few, as his talent has carried the day. Besides, if you are looking for ego-less fare, look outside the music industry.
Carter’s enormous talents have been on display in the Mingus Big Band, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and with Julius Hemphill and Lester Bowie’s bands. He made the jazz world quake with two Japanese releases JC On The Set (DIW 1993) and Jurassic Classics (DIW 1994). His ability to stylistically leap from Ben Webster to Gene Ammons and Eric Dolphy, sometimes within the same song, garnered critical attention. He also received much criticism for his impatience, the inability to play a straight ballad. He soon answered by signing with Atlantic records and under the tutelage of producer Yves Beauvais produced The Real Quietstorm (1995) an album of ballads both respectful and at the same time packed full of Carter’s musical concepts. But still, no one wants to stop him, or even contain his musical wanderlust. It would be like forcing Charlie Parker into an academy setting or trading Derek Jeter to Milwaukee.
Carter simultaneously releases two records, one, Layin’ In The Cut with an all-electric band, and the other, Chasin’ The Gypsy, an acoustic outing inspired by Django Reinhardt. Besides appealing to two separate jazz buying demographics, both are solid James Carter records. Chasin’ features Carter’s love for pre-war swing so aptly demonstrated in Robert Altman’s film Kansas City. Together with Regina Carter (as Stephane Grappelli) playing Django’s partner, Carter explores Rheinhardt tunes and interpretive originals. His multi-reed choices of F mezzo and bass saxophones on several tunes, plus the appetizing instrumentation recorded, including an accordion and various guitars, allow the flavor of the music to simmer. He chose to cast the attention elsewhere, sometimes to the all-star percussion section of Joey Baron and Cyro Baptista and to Regina Carter. Carter’s Reinhardt tribute, while appealing to traditional jazz fans, also has something to say to the Downtown crowd.
Layin’ doesn’t opt to cross boundaries as much as it plays itself out as a jazz/funk bar band. The title track opens the disc, transporting you directly to Grover Washington’s 1974 Mr. Magic with all it’s R&B funk. Carter employs the Philadelphia vibe of that time with bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston, both Ornette Coleman electric Prime Time members, along with Ronald Shannon Jackson’s guitarist Jef Lee Johnson. Rounding out the lineup is Downtown electric guitar master Marc Ribot. The powerful all-electric lineup matches up nicely with Carter’s huge sound. In contract to Chasin’ there’s nothing implied about the groove here. The funk is up front. Surfacing is Carter’s deeds. He shreds “Terminal B” with the band pulses. For many in the seventies, Grover Washington Jr. drew us to jazz through R&B and funk and a bit of fusion. As out palates got sophisticated, we could cast aside the obvious. Carter embraces the obvious here, where Gene Ammons, Don Byas, and Ben Webster can also be referenced. James Carter is having fun. Maybe he has opened himself to the moldy fig criticism for not sticking to THE TRADITION. But a double play is a double play, whether it is 6-4-1 or 3-3-4.
Chasin’ The Gypsy Track List:Nuages (Clouds); La Derniere Bergere (The Last Steeplechase); Manoir De Mes Reves (Django’s Castle); Artillerie Lourde (Heavy Artillery); Chasin’ The Gypsy; Oriental Shuffle; I’ll Never Be The Same; Avalon; Imari’s Lullaby.