Carterology

Which Is More 21st Century, Django or Funk?

Perhaps the finest arrangements, however, are "Artillerie Lourde," a Reinhardt swing riff that recalls "Tuxedo Junction" and anticipates "Such Sweet Thunder" in its brassy bravado, and "Oriental Shuffle," which has an illusory slowing-down in the second half of the A sections and features Carter on F mezzo saxophone, which suggests a serpentine alto. Carter plays bass sax with tremendous bite on the former, while the accordion plugs in the theme's offbeats. The latter opens with a cymbal wash and exotic scene setting, before Carter states the theme with a surging, humorous-happy lyricism reminiscent of Benny Carter (no relation). Baron, who occasionally sounds busy on the potboilers, is mostly plush here.

The album has two lullabies, Carter's "Imari's Lullaby," a brief rubato tenor and guitars meditation, and a stunningly slow, almost dirgelike "I'll Never Be the Same" that is all texture—violin states theme, counterpunched by bass sax, with accordion filling in the middle—and rich as pastry. I don't think I've ever heard a bass sax sound as supple, melodic, and personable; the bubbling bass line he plays in counterpoint as the violin takes the lead is a champagne highlight in a champagne album.

James Carter’s Django Reinhardt tribute cauterizes sentimentality with the same entertaining virtuosity that seems a touch studied on his funk workout.
photo: Lorenzo Aguis
James Carter’s Django Reinhardt tribute cauterizes sentimentality with the same entertaining virtuosity that seems a touch studied on his funk workout.

Because the material is so varied and, by the standards of au courant jazz, unusual, Chasin' the Gypsyis a near perfect distillation of Carter's technique. Virtuosity is every bit as central to Layin' in the Cut, but here it seems more studied and I find myself often admiring the gee-whiz tricks more than I like them. The record is not dull, except in a few ponderous codas, and the aggressive daring is amusing almost by default, but the brittleness and constancy of his attack wear me down after a couple of tracks. When he brought his state-of-the-art electric band—Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Jef Lee Johnson, and G. Calvin Weston (Marc Ribot didn't make it)—into the Blue Note recently, I was dazzled by two pieces and anaesthetized by the other two. Listening to the album, I continue to prefer the same two tracks, perhaps because their rhythms surmount hidebound funkiness: Johnson's ebullient "Terminal B" and Carter's engaging "G.P.," a Horace Silver-inspired piece complete with suspenseful two-bar breaks. Carter needs melody to balance his steely, pitch-perfect precision. In funk terrain, the popped keys and tongued reeds, the harmonics and circular breathing, the whole retinue of saxophonics seem slightly robotic. Put another way, Layin' in the Cutis mostly muscle. Chasin' the Gypsyis heart and soul—the future, I hope.

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