Notes on Jazz: Favorite CD Reviews #2

Posted by Michael Borshuk On 9:16 PM

James Carter, Out of Nowhere (Half Note 4520)


With Out of Nowhere, James Carter offers a second consecutive live disc—this time with his organ trio—on the heels of last year’s tribute to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in his hometown, Detroit. While these live sessions are less august occasions than the saxophonist’s historical tributes (to Django Reinhardt, to Billie Holiday) in recent years, they’re perhaps ultimately better suited to Carter’s style. After all, Carter’s improvisations are never merely discrete musical statements so much as they are elements within a broader, multifaceted performance: the effortless genius who thrills crowds with acrobatic playing and heart-staggering showmanship, not because he needs the audience’s approval, but just because he can.

Or so he’d have us believe.

Carter seems to thrive on attention, and in a club setting—placed so intimately with an appreciative crowd looking to be impressed—he’s particularly extroverted in displaying his technical range. A notable example here is his early soprano solo on Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty,” a frenzied invention that proceeds through a long, varied series of tones and textures, and eventually culminates with Carter inventing new notes in the far reaches of the upper registers. Later in the track, Carter returns with a second improvisation that sounds, variously, as though it’s being transmitted from underwater and sung by a chorus of bumblebees. Carter, it appears, never gets tired of invigorating conventions through expressive novelty. This is not your standard organ trio.

Fittingly, the saxophonist shares improvising space on other tracks with guest artists (and fellow extroverts) James “Blood” Ulmer on guitar, and Hamiet Bluiett on baritone sax. Ulmer’s metallic picking and plangent effects complement the textural diversity of Carter’s baritone playing on the guitarist’s “Highjack,” and Bluiett’s guttural tone fuses seamlessly with Carter’s as they pair baritones on a sped-up version of the R. Kelly pop ballad, “I Believe I Can Fly.”

The effect of these pairings is rarely understated, but for those of us with a taste for pyrotechnics, it’s undoubtedly enjoyable.

(2004)


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MICHAEL BORSHUK is Associate Professor of African American Literature at Texas Tech University. He is the author of SWINGING THE VERNACULAR: JAZZ AND AFRICAN AMERICAN MODERNIST LITERATURE (Routledge, 2006), and numerous essays, reviews, and encyclopedia entries on African American literature, American modernism, and music. For ten years, from 1999 to 2009, he wrote on jazz regularly for CODA MAGAZINE. His fiction has appeared in ANTIGONISH REVIEW, DALHOUSIE REVIEW, ELYSIAN FIELDS QUARTERLY, SHORT STORY, and 34TH PARALLEL.

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