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Paris Jazz Diary 2015: Saxophonists Lew Tabackin, James Carter, Craig Handy

Patricia Myers By

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Lew Tabackin, James Carter, Craig Handy
Sunside-Sunset/Duc des Lombards
Paris, France
July 8, July 11, July 12, 2015

Getting great sax in Paris was a sure thing this summer with three American tenor titans Lew Tabackin, James Carter and Craig Handy performing within three soul-satisfying weeks. In the fewest words: Tabackin elegantly memorable, Carter riotously powerful, Handy balladeer extraordinaire. Much better, though, to cite details of the concerts and the contrasting styles on the same type of instrument during the annual summer jazz series of two Paris jazz clubs.

Tabackin's polished style illuminated two eclectic sets in the Sunset jazz cellar on July 8, as part of the annual two-month-long American Jazz Festiv'Halles. The longtime New York musician, 75, conveyed the same brand of exuberance as he exhibited in his earliest years on that scene. His style on tenor reflected influences of Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington's tribute to Hawkins, "Self-Portrait of the Bean."

There was rich fervor in his treatment of the complex "Afternoon in Paris," his energy heightened by his penchant to lift his leg, kick back his right foot and bend deeply at the knees. For Ellington's "Sunset and the Mockingbird," Tabackin emitted bird sounds that perfectly fit into what he wittily termed his "de-rangement" of that lissome chart, and giving better meaning to the 21st-century term "tweeting."

The leader chose Oscar Pettiford's challenging "Tricotism" to showcase Parisian contrabassist Raphael Dever, the pair playing unison lines to open, then providing ample space for Dever's resonant solo, as drummer Mourad Benhammou, perfectly ebbed and flowed in align with the leader's mode.

The ballad "Easy to Love" best revealed Tabackin's ultimate prowess on the tenor, as he delivered the melody in intricate phrasings that flowed seamlessly from his horn to the closing portion, when Dever shifted to arco bass and Benhammou employed soft mallets on toms. For the closing selection, Tabackin announced, "Liberace's theme song," to perform "I'll Be Seeing You" from the flamboyant pianist's 1950s-60s television show. Tabackin started the chart in the mysterious intro style of Erroll Garner, then delivered it at triple-speed, punctuated by Benhammou's stellar cymbals action.

Carter, 46, kept listeners expectantly excited as he switched moods and modes in a set at Duc des Lombards during its fifth annual "Nous N'Irons Pas a New York"("We're not going to New York") festival that nightly brought that city's jazz stars to Paris from June 29-July 25.

This concert featured Carter's reunited Django Unchained Trio, a Detroit coalition, this version featuring Gerard Gibbs rocketing on Hammond B3 and Alex White punctuating on percussion. The set featured Django Reinhardt compositions of "Manoir de Mes Reves," "Fleche d'Or" and "Pour Que Ma Vie Demeure," as well as jazz charts and even a waltz by Austrian composer Gustav Mahler that swung hard.

Carter, historically cited as an 11-year-old reeds prodigy, was master of his three horns, mainly playing tenor but switching three times to soprano and once to alto. He displayed exceptional prowess for the tenor groove in treble and bass clefs, took the soprano to high-note extremes, choosing the alto for the ballad "Just One of Those Things." The Carterian style was zealous in attitude and exciting, but sounding too often as if he was playing some sort of aural game, slap-tonguing and sucking the sax mouthpiece to emit hoots, toots, snaps and what can only be described as mouth-farts. It was unnecessary "decoration" of his prodigious abilities, and at one point turned the audience completely silent.

Gibbs illustrated his monster virtuosity throughout, especially on his feature spot of Horace Silver's "Silver Serenade" that was sparked by powerhouse dynamics and delicate nuances, as White enhanced and amended each shift and change. This was a solid coalition that thrilled throughout.

Handy, 53, opened his set at Sunside with "Chick's Tune," written by Blue Mitchell in 1964 for pianist Chick Corea, employing overtones to emit dual-note sounds. Known to be strongly influenced by Dexter Gordon, Handy exhibited full control of his own muscular power and rich resonance, especially in the bebop mode. As a reedsman, Handy can be ethereally light in tone, or sink into darker modes.

Crooning a vocal on "Baby, Take a Chance with Me," Handy evinced elements of John Coltrane in his ballad work, while providing generous space for solos by his colleagues, Paris-based pianist Christian Chauveau, bassist Nicolas Sabato and Philippe Sorat on drums.

In summation, the deep jazz roots of Tabackin were explored, Handy's were expanded and Carter's were exploded, each as satisfying as good sax should be.

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