Hope springs eternal from the horn of Carl Bartlett, Jr. The young alto saxophonist's debut album puts his positive spirit out front on a set of music that explores the quiet, the lively and everything in between. Bartlett, a Queens, New York native still living in the jazz capital of the universe, didn't instantly take to the saxophone, having first spent time exploring clarinet, trumpet and piano at an early age, but he found his true voice when he met the alto at the age of fourteen. Now, about a decade and a half later, he's putting that voice to good use.
On Hopeful, Bartlett brings out the sunny side in life and visits in on a variety of settings. He clearly marks himself as a risk-taker by starting things off with a solo saxophone showcase ("Hopeful"), but it pays off. This performances gives him an instant air of credibility that carries through the whole album. Bartlett never returns to this format and that's understandable; after these first five minutes, he's already made his pointand point of impactand he need not return to the original scene of success. Instead, he journeys far and wide, exploring waltz-time worlds that occasionally detour into five ("Fidgety Season"), dropping into bossa nova territory ("Release"), and sprinting his way through a notable burner ("Quantum Leaps (And Bounds)"). He also expertly delivers odd-metered blues with a hard bop veneer ("Seven Up"), visits gentler realms ("Julie B.") and hits a classic or two along the way ("It Could Happen To You").
Ebullience is apparent every time Bartlett picks up his horn and this makes perfect sense. His bright toned alto is clearly a reflection of his positive spirit and it serves as the guiding force throughout. Occasionally, he carries too much of the load, as on "Julie B.," which loses focus when the spotlight shifts away from Bartlett and moves toward bassist Eric Lemon, but these issues pop up infrequently.
Bartlett is clearly the star of his own show, but a few other players deserve a mention. Pianist Sharp Radway wins the award for most supportive presence, as he continually lays down a comfortable foundation for Bartlett's explorations. Guitarist Ron Jackson, who sadly only appears on the driving "Quantum Leaps (And Bounds)," proves to be an excellent fit. He moves in lockstep with the leader, as they both fly through tricky lines, and delivers some attention-grabbing solo work.
In order to find success in music these days, artists have to be more than organizationally adept and technically capable; they also need to have the right attitude and outlook on life, which is ever apparent in the work of Carl Bartlett, Jr.
Hopeful; Fidgety Season; Julie B.; Quantum Leaps (And Bounds); Release; Seven Up; It Could Happen To You; I Love Lucy.
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