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At the Crossroads

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Album Review

At the Crossroads, saxophonist James Carter's third disc for the Emarcy, is the first for the label with his Organ Trio, which has been together since 2004. Produced by Michael Cuscuna, it's an indelible portrait of Detroit's historic jazz scene, envisioned in the present while looking ahead. All trio members — Carter, organist Gerard Gibbs, and drummer Leonard King, Jr. — either reside or come from there. This disc also showcases Carter's development from his earliest days shedding in the Motor City to his current status as a jazz virtuoso. Numerous guest appearances — from Detroit and elsewhere — underscore this. It kicks off in true B-3 grit-and-gravy mode with a twist on "Oh Gee," a knotty bop burner that is one of several tracks with guitarist Bruce Edwards; its head is played at a breakneck tempo, the trio's interplay and Carter's solo in the middle move in and out of the honking and bar walking tradition of Detroit's Hastings Street clubs, but pushes it into its post-bop terrain. "JC Off the Set," by Gibbs, is a ballad written in response to Carter's earlier composition "JC on the Set," and the organist is impressive with his innovative arpeggios and his sense of swing. King's "Lettuce Toss Yo' Salad" is the wildest cut here; a variation on straight-ahead hard bop, it takes intense turns by Carter squawking and squalling with King, making his cymbals and snare sound simply greasy with Gibbs' sprinting bass runs and instinctive fills. Big Maybelle's "Ramblin' Blues" is one of three vocals by veteran Detroit singer Miche Braden. With Carter playing flute and alto in addition to tenor, fellow Detroiter Vincent Chandler on trombone, and trumpeter Keyon Harrold, Braden gets her soul-blues on. She also shines on the gospel nugget "Tis the Old Ship of Zion," and reveals her shining jazz chops on "The Walking Blues." Other highlights (though there isn't a weak moment here) include a reading of B-3 jazz innovator Sarah McLawler's tune "My Whole Life Through," which is shimmering, pure blues-jazz with some gorgeous work by Gibbs and King; Jack McDuff's "Walking the Dog," and the closing read of Julius Hemphill's "The Hard Blues," which features guitarist Brandon Ross. Nocturnal, funky, and and slow for a long cut — it clocks in at nearly ten minutes — the interplay between Carter and Ross with Gibbs' rumbling bass notes is exciting before things get really wild. When the tune moves outside, King holds it down tight as the other three try to send it over the cliff. At the Crossroads delivers what its title promises: a portrait of the Organ Trio at the point where they look back at B-3 jazz history and move it ever forward.

At the Crossroads, The James Carter Organ Trio
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  • €10.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music, Vocal Jazz
  • Released: 01 January 2011

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