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Present Tense

James Carter

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Album Review

Present Tense was born out of two very specific desires. First, saxophonist James Carter wanted a precise recorded portrait of where he was at as a musician, aesthetically and technically. Second was producer Michael Cuscuna's dead-on assertion that Carter, for all his instrumental and aesthetic virtuosity, had never been represented well on tape. Carter's inability to resist overdoing it on virtually everything he records (ten-minute solos in standards, etc.) makes that point inarguable. Cuscuna proves to be the perfect producer — as both ally and foil — and reins Carter in to benefit the recording as a whole. The band on Present Tense is solid: the young trumpeter and fellow Detroiter Dwight Adams, pianist D.D. Jackson, bassist James Genus, and drummer Victor Lewis round out the quintet, with percussionist Eli Fountain and guitarist Rodney Jones playing on three cuts each. The program is wide-ranging and eclectic, but it locks. It offers a portrait of Carter as an exciting traditionalist who can stretch arrangements and previous interpretations to the breaking point, without simply making them egotistical statements about him as a soloist.

Dave Burns "Rapid Shave" opens the set on a stomping, storming, Blue Note-style hard bop workout with Carter's tenor and Adams' trumpet playing the 24-bar jump blues with joyous abandon. Adams' comps push the fat harmonic center straight to the front. Genus and Lewis offer sprightly tempos and interesting rhythmic accents. Adams proves he can hang with the big fellows nicely in his own solo. Carter's "Bro. Dolphy" is one of the most compelling and emotionally satisfying tunes on the set, with Carter on bass clarinet. It opens as an angular, slightly dissonant harmonic sprint but gives way to some of the most lyric balladry Carter has ever composed; one can hear his love of Billie Holiday in the melody even as he evokes Dolphy's own love of the blues and simpler melodies. But this isn't enough by a long shot, and before long the ballad gives way to a stomping, Mingus-style workout, the very kind that showcased Dolphy's artistry as both a soloist and arranger.

Django Reinhardt's ballad, "Pour Que Ma Vie Demeure," with Carter on soprano, is lovely. It lowers the intensity and features a fine solo by Genus. Other standouts include Dodo Marmarosa's "Dodo's Bounce," with Carter on flute and Adams playing a muted trumpet. Its elegant, cool swing is balanced by Jones' semi-percussive strum that adds a weight to the rhythm section. Jones also appears on the Carter original "Bossa J.C." Fountain's congas shimmer in this samba, which contains a post-bop force inspired by Ray Barretto's tough Latin jazz sensibility and the lyricism of Tom Jobim. Carter's solo seeks the places where the tune's melody breaks out, and succeeds in finding it. Jones follows the roll of rhythms in his single-string and chord voicings as he alternates between George Benson-esque funk and Baden Powell's elegant textural statements. It works without a hitch. Whether it's in the sprinting bop pyrotechnics of Gigi Gryce's "Hymn of the Orient," or the off minor tropical blues of Jimmy Jones' "Shadowy Sands," or the balladry of the standard "Tenderly," Present Tense showcases Carter at his most disciplined and ambitious. Even his originals — check "Sussa Nita" — use the tradition in ways he hasn't employed before. This may be Carter's finest album because of its insistence on the balance between restraint and adventure. Carter placed himself in Cuscuna's expert hands and it has paid off handsomely.

Biography

Born: 03 January 1969 in Detroit, MI

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

After Wynton Marsalis, no one caused more of an uproar than James Carter did when he appeared on the New York jazz scene from his native Detroit. Carter's debut recording, JC on the Set, issued in Japan when he was only 23, and in the States a year later in 1993, was universally acclaimed as the finest debut by a saxophonist in decades. Critics lauded his ability to play in virtually any jazz style without appearing to ape anyone. Carter, who began playing at 11 and studied with trumpeter Marcus...
Full Bio
Present Tense, James Carter
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  • $16.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music
  • Released: 01 January 2008

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