Friday, October 30, 2009

JAM BAND

Dear Jeff Lavenson,

The new James Carter album "Heaven on Earth" recorded live at the Blue Note jazz club in New York came out in late August unbeknownst to many of Carter’s hometown fans. Why wasn’t there a media blitz? As a jazz journalist and as a James Carter fan, I was disappointed. By the way, I'm Charles L. Latimer I write about jazz for the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper in Detroit. Folks around town were in the dark about “Heaven on Earth”.

I discovered the album on Amazon.com months after it hit the streets. Why didn't I buy it from Amazon? I don't care to order music online. I support neighborhood record stores, which nowadays are an endangered species. Car City Records and Melodies and Memories, record stores near Detroit that sale jazz music didn’t stock the album. They didn’t know it existed. Jeff, why didn't Half Note Records have an aggressive marketing campaign? The people who handle publicity for the label dropped the ball.

Detroit is a jazz town with a rich jazz history, and most Detroit jazz fans consider Carter royalty. We should’ve known about this new album months in advance. For weeks, I search locally for the album. I finally tracked it down over the weekend at Street Corner Music, a record store in Southfield, MI. "Heaven on Earth" is Carter’s best live album.

Live is the best context to experience him. In his live performances, he holds nothing back. Carter is like a ventriloquist, making his sax talk. The liner notes said you put together this album, handpicking Carter's sidemen. Bassist Christian McBride, organist John Medeski, drummer Joey Baron, and guitarist Adams Rogers are Carter's equals. I replayed "Blue Leo" and the title cut many times. Organist John Medeski had me spell bounded. It was the first time I heard him. He has a churchy sound on the organ like a gospel choir lives inside it. Medeski could’ve been easily mistaking as the leader. He scrambled through the tunes like a college quarterback.

"Heaven on Earth" is an excellent jam band record without the egos. Each player had his moment in the spotlight, and they didn't disappoint. McBride, for example, handled his bass like a debutante on "Diminishing". Rogers had the six stings on his guitar groaning on "Blue Leo". The players never tried to outfox Carter. Carter is a middle-aged saxophonist now. The past five years his playing has matured. He’s no longer unnecessarily rambunctious. He’s learned how to edit himself, especially when improvising. His maturity is evident on “Slam’s Mishap” and “Street of Dreams”. His soloing and improvising is pointed.

Jeff, what's next for this band? Will they tour? Are you planning to do a studio recording with them? If you are, give us James Carter fan some advance notice.

Best,
Charles
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