An extravagant offering that pays homage as it points to the future, these two CDs reaffirm James Carter's position as one of the top modern saxophonists. They are jazz as it should be: streetwise, sophisticated, passionate, engaged. What the disks have in common may be as significant as their differences: dual guitar arrangements, Carter's ardent playing, and an appetite for the unusual in voicing and attitude. The way they differ is telling, too. Where Chasin is a homage to the similarly eclectic gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, the more obviously contemporary Layin is Carter's testimonial to funk, Motown, and "outside" jazz, all rolled into one. Less melodic than Chasin, Layin' is at least as lyrical. The first CD lays Carter's euphonious caterwaul against the velvet accordion of Charlie Giordano, Regina Carter's virtuosic, impish fiddle, and the acoustic guitars of Jay Berliner and Romero Lubambo. The tracks span the appropriately pastoral "La Dernière Bergère" ("The Last Shepherdess"), the wonderfully swaggering "Artillerie Lourde" and the mysterious "Oriental Shuffle." Carter connects, ending a caressing phrase with a rasp, flutter-tonguing, "slapping" his reed so it pops. Layin' finds Carter in a more electric mode, sparked by the choppy guitar of Marc Ribot, Jamaaladeen Tacuma's purposeful bass, G. Calvin Weston's ubiquitous drums, and the precise rhythms of electric guitarist Jef Lee Johnson. The music evokes some of James Blood Ulmer's bluesier efforts, but Carter's depth is his own, particularly on the achingly funky "Requiem for Hartford Ave" and the highly locomotive "Terminal B." Layin', with its nods to Motown and such Carter predecessors as David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford, winds up being in the best Atlantic tradition of rhythm & blues: You conjure street scenes with this music, evoking a time when jazz and R&B were kissing cousins rather than distant relatives.
AllMusic Review by Carlo Wolff