Tuesday, May 17, 2011


At this stage of his career, James Carter can put out any kind of album he wants to. At one of Carter’s concerts, I overheard someone saying, “James could blow into a garden hose and that would sound good”. I don’t doubt that. Carter is undoubtedly one of the principal jazz saxophonists of his generation—on second thought of any generation. Carter has recorded some remarkable concept albums “Jurassic Classics,” “Conversin’ with the Elders,” “Chasin’ the Gypsy” and “Gardenia for Lady Day” are some examples. But none more remarkable as his new album “Caribbean Rhapsody: Concerto for Saxophones.

Today, Emacry Records offers to the public “Caribbean Rhapsody: Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra”. Roberto Sierra, who has worked with Carter off and on for nearly a decade, composed the music. Sierra cut open Carter’s style, like a coroner a corpse for an autopsy. Sierra dissected every part of Carter’s style. Sierra's crafted compositions befitting Carter's many hallmarks.

One of Carter's hallmarks is coming up with imaginative cadenzas. Sierra kept the back door of some of his compositions wide open for Carter to play cadenzas. 

“Caribbean Rhapsody" is not Carter’s first stab at classical music. In 2002, Carter performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Neeme Jarvi. Sierra composed the music. The concert was successful. The following year Carter played with the DSO again. Classical music doesn’t allow any room for improvising. Sierra knows Carter playing relies heavily on improvisation. 

And asking Carter to play music without improvising would be like asking a slugger to hit a home run without a bat. Sierra composed music for “Caribbean Rhapsody,” that doesn’t restrict Carter’s inner swinger. Sierra’s compositions challenge Carter to dig deeper into his bag of improvisational tricks, and Carter exceeds the challenge.

“Caribbean Rhapsody” opens with “Ritmico”. Carter does the bolero with his tenor. On “Tender,” Carter plays the tenor and soprano tenderly like a mother tending to a scrape on a child’s knee. “Playful” meanders along until Carter kicks the tempo in the ass. Then Carter and the Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra swing home the rest of the way.

“Caribbean Rhapsody” has many unforgettable moments. Two moments are Carter soloing on “Tenor Interlude” and Soprano Interlude” Carter weeds through the changes like a landscaper. (Someday Carter will replace saxophonist Sonny Rollins as the reigning king of improvisation.) Another unforgettable moment is Carter’s exchange with The Alkun Dixon String Quintet on the concerto “Caribbean Rhapsody,” In the second, movement Carter and guest soloist violinist Regina Carter swing high like trapeze artists.

Carter has 14 albums under his belt now. “Caribbean Rhapsody” is Carter’s first masterpiece. “Caribbean Rhapsody is the second album legendary jazz record producer Michael Cuscuna has produced for Carter. At 42, every aspect of Carter’s playing has matured, and Cuscuna is the right partner for Carter at this stage of his career.
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