March 5, 2006
James Carter came into The Egg, Albany NY's hippest concert venue, on March 5. It's a venue he's played before, and again it seemed, at times, as though he would blow the lid of the unique egg-shaped structure that adorns New York state's capital city.
This time, Carter featured music from his Gardenias for Lady Day CD that came out a couple years ago. The prior appearance was from his Django Reinhardt tribute disc. Both the material and the band were better. This aggregation smoked through two sets of great music. The group was very cohesive. Like the bandleader himself, the group could play soft and subtle, as well as fast, hot and loud. And they had a ball doing it.
Carter, of course, is gregarious and aggressive in his playing. He uses a large array of styles from burning bebop, to honkin' and shoutin', to sweet and low. And he did it on flute and the saxophones ranging from alto to tenor. (Sadly, no baritone, on which he also excels). To some tastes, his style may be too bombastic. But it's his stamp. And he plays a whole shitload of music, joyous and wild at times. Still, he can play thoughtful and inventive, slower-paced phrases with ease and assurance, as he did when he kicked off "My Man on soprano, a cappella, heating up as he was joined by the full band. His pronouncement on Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing was delectable. Don't go to sleep on James' ballad playing.
And what a band. They all had ties to Carter's native Detroit, but no nepotism here. A special treat was trumpeter Dwight Adams, whose chops and sound somewhere between Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, provided special fireworks. Cat can play! Backed by a stellar rhythm section of Gerald Gibbs on piano, both entertaining and crisp in execution; Leonard King, polyrhythmic and tasty throughout, backbone of the music; and Ralphe Armstrong (of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra fame) on bass, a swinging and creative support player and strong soloist with both standard plucking and singing bow work in his repertoire.
Added to that were the occasional vocals of Miche Braden. She didn't imitate Billie Holiday. She did the songs in her own style, which Lady Day would have appreciated.
The music in Albany was across the board better than the CD, as is often the case in jazz. Included was the darkly intense rendering of "Strange Fruit which, appropriately, conjures up evil and eerieness, but somehow also strength and resolve, with Braden howling in poignant pain at the end as the horns blared dissonant sounds and Armstrong and King rumbled beneath like a storm rolling trough Georgia or Alabama or anywhere the horrifying lynchings portrayed in the lyrics took place.
Braden was sweet and swinging and suggestive on "Lover Man and while the rendition of "More Than You Know sounded odd at first with a Latin beat behind it, it kind of grew on the ears and with Braden's silky voice.
Carter's work continues to be impressive. And there are miles to go before he sleeps. Stay up for it.