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James Carter: Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge

Chris M. Slawecki By

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In 2001, James Carter commanded soprano, tenor, and baritone saxophones on one of the most famous jazz stages in his Detroit hometown, leading keyboardists Gerald Gibbs and Kenn Cox, trumpeter Dwight Adams, bassist Ralphe Armstrong, and drummers Leonard King and Richard "Pistol" Allen, plus special guests, through three hot summer nights.

Just like he covers every saxophone, Carter covers just about every style, on Live at Baker's. On the first track, Oscar Pettiford's "Tricotism," his playing reshapes a solid groove into an harmonic adventure much further out, like Lou Donaldson and Pharoah Sanders blowing on the same bandstand. On Don Byas' stately tenor ballad, Carter swings "Free and Easy."

Carter and guest tenor David Murray lay an ass-whipping on "Freedom Jazz Dance" of which its composer—'the lamented, mercurial Eddie Harri—would surely be proud. Dueling on the melody, each inspiring the other to play hotter, while the drummer boils the pot with a hard-rocking snare sound, a true flash of transcendent musical communion from a blazing spirit of live performance. Just great.

Guest tenor Franz Jackson lays a hilarious vocal down in this charmingly unpolished "I Can't Get Started," as Carter's soprano sings sweet and light in contrast to Jackson's gruff "Satchmo" vocal.

The set ends with Carter, Murray, Jackson and Johnny Griffin all honking tenor madness on an electrifying eleven-minute workout through "Foot Pattin'" which showcases bassist Armstrong in a taffy-pull, elastic solo spot. In the true Motor City tradition of bassist James Jamerson, Armstrong plays the musical fulcrum and unsung hero throughout, hot-wiring "Tricotism" and "Foot Pattin'" then driving them hard to their finish, and sliding deep down into the funk of "Freedom Jazz Dance."

As for Carter, he looks back in his liner notes at this gig as "a hip and blessed homecoming." Who says you can't go home again?


Track Listing: Tricotism; Soul Street; Freedom Jazz Dance; I Can't Get Started; Free and Easy; Low Flame; Sack Full of Dreams

Personnel: James Carter, soprano, tenor, and baritone sax; Johnny Griffin, tenor sax; David Murray, tenor sax; Franz Jackson, tenor sax, vocal; Larry Smith, alto sax; Dwight Adams, trumpet; Kenn Cox, piano; Gerard Gibbs, organ; Ralphe Armstrong, bass; Leonard King, drums; Richard "Pistol" Allen, drums.

Title: Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Warner Bros.


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