Between 1995 and 2004, Detroit saxophonist James Carter released several conceptual discs: a salute to Django Reinhardt (Chasin' the Gypsy), electric-era Miles Davis (Layin' in the Cut), jazz ballads (Real Quiet Storm), and a lush Billie Holiday tribute (Gardenias for Lady Day). With the release of each disc, the unavoidable question remained: would Carter ever put out another straight-ahead session in the vein of his early-'90s recordings JC on the Set and Jurassic Classics? Happily, Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge makes up for lost time. Carter and an amazing array of musicians took flight for three nights in June 2001 at Baker's in Detroit, featuring guest appearances by David Murray and Johnny Griffin alongside fellow Motor City natives Franz Jackson, Kenny Cox, Dwight Adams, Larry Smith, and Gerard Gibbs. On this set Carter frequently switches reeds, easily juggling tenor, soprano, and baritone saxophones, while his rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Ralphe Armstrong and the split drumming duties of Leonard King and the late Funk Brother Richard "Pistol" Allen (who passed away in 2002) keep the music simmering until the heat rises once again. Carter's choice of cover material is impeccable and well balanced. Instead of lazily strolling through the same old tried and true standards and songbooks, Carter and associates re-ignite tunes from the pen of Oscar Pettiford ("Tricotism"), Jimmy Forrest ("Soul Street"), Eddie Harris ("Freedom Jazz Dance"), and Don Byas ("Free and Easy"), before slowing the tempo on "I Can't Get Started," "Low Flame," and "Sack Full of Dreams," culminating with the four-tenor blowout of George Duvivier's "Foot Pattin'." The only time the train jumps the tracks is during "Soul Street." Organist Gibbs uses a synthesized, sampled vocal section that sounds like a mechanical Swingle Singers. The technology itself may be intriguing, but the results are completely out of place in this context. Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge finds Carter cutting loose like a musician who's been conceptually sidetracked long enough. This is a back to basics blowing session and concepts be damned!
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Al Campbell