James Carter's 2019 concert album Live from Newport Jazz finds the saxophonist bringing together two of his biggest stylistic touchstones: organ-steeped soul jazz and the swinging gypsy jazz of famed guitarist Django Reinhardt. The Detroit-born Carter first explored the music of Reinhardt on record with his 2000 album Chasin' the Gypsy and has regularly played many of the legendary guitarist's songs live. Conversely, for over a decade, Carter has also played with his soul-, funk-, and R&B-influenced organ trio, a group inspired by the work of artists like Jack McDuff, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Richard Groove Holmes. This live concert, recorded at the Newport festival in 2018, finds Carter ably combining gypsy and organ jazz (two seemingly disparate styles of music) with genre-bending élan. Joining him are his longtime organ trio bandmates Hammond B-3 specialist Gerard Gibbs and drummer Alex White. Reinhardt's songs work as both lyrical statements and avenues for extended soloing. Subsequently, as with the songs of the American Popular Canon, these compositions work well in a variety of settings. Primarily, Carter bends them to his will, infusing Reinhardt's Parisian melodicism with his own earthy groove. Kicking things off, he transforms the usually languid and stately "Le Manoir De Mes Reves" into a jaunty mid-tempo swinger rife with bluesy saxophone asides. Even more far afield, Carter mutates "Melodie Au Crepuscule" into a swaggeringly funky call-and-response groove between himself and Gibbs. Similarly, Reinhardt's ballad "Anouman" gets a dynamic interpolation that's pure Dr. Lonnie Smith as Gibbs shifts from subdued dusky chordal sections to ringing high-end jabs. More faithful to the source is the ballad "Pour Que Ma Vie Demeure," which Carter first recorded on 2008's Present Tense, and which he returns to here with urbane delicacy on the soprano sax. He closes out the set diving headlong into the would-be swinger "Fleche d'Or," as he and Gibbs grapple over Reinhardt's bop-inflected melody with spasmodic funk intensity, pushing the song to ever more outré heights.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar