James Carter – Live at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge (Warner, 2004)
This live album was recorded in 2001 and then sat in limbo for three years as Carter was signed to the Warner label only to be shown the door a short time later. He eventually resurfaced on Columbia, releasing last years string heavy Billie Holiday tribute Gardenias for Lady Day. This set was originally scheduled to be a double disc album, but has been trimmed to one disc for release. Rumor had it that Aretha Franklin and other Detroit luminaries were to be featured, but for unknown reasons they are nowhere to be see in the official release. We do get a couple of guest appearances from David Murray, whose jumping register hopping sound can be seen a big influence on Carter’s playing.
“Freedom Jazz Dance” kicks off with a nice multi horn opening courtesy of Murray and Carter. David Murray really steps up to the plate with a fierce overblown solo dipping into the Ayler bag, but also showing the influence of one of his other idols, Paul Gonsalves. “Soul Street” sets a funky organ groove and morphs into a keyboard solo of sampled vocals coming off as sort of the Manhattan Transfer from hell – pretty strange, but it works in kind of a hot dog – show off kind of way. “I Can’t Get Started” has a mellow tenor and organ opening, harkening back to the swing era, with the singer’s gruff vocals belting out the words. “Free and Easy” has a simmering mid-tempo groove, with nice trumpet solos from D. Adams.
This is a fun record – not as much fun as it could have been perhaps, but it still gives you a chance to hear James Carter when not enveloped by a string section as he was in Gardenias. The knock on Carter in a live setting is that he’s something of a ham and allows his showmanship to exceed his good taste. That’s really not the case here, for the most part, he’s in full control of his considerable talent.
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