James Carter, Present Tense

Sweet Cover.

He burst onto the scene years ago*, everyone was all “oh he’s the shit,”** and this virtuoso instrumentalist went on to blah blah blah….

He plays tons of instruments (soprano/alto/tenor/bari sax, flute, bass clarinet). He knows his shit.

There’s the background.

Present Tense is James Carter’s most recent studio album (the live Heaven on Earth came out the next year, 2009). On it, he plays with young(ish) trumpeter Dwight Adams (like Carter, from Detroit), pianist D.D. Jackson, bassist James Genus, and drummer Victor Lewis (percussionist Eli Fountain and guitarist Rodney Jones also play on three tracks each).

There’s the personnel.


“Bro. Dolphy” (track 2) is too tight, too close to the beat to be Dolphy (not that he was aiming for that), but gives a cool argument about what Dolphy might sound like if he were more (in his solo recording days) obviously into blues (not just suggesting them) and was more of a beat slave. (And I love Dolphy– the banner image of this site is a b/w photo of him.) At 4:45, a lovely glissando; like glass seagulls peppering the salt air, sun radiating through them and firing spectrums, you look away but you hate to; ends like Pharoah Sanders’ trademark screech/ skronk. A very cool combination and restructuring of Dolphy-isms.

“Sussa Nita”: sounds like it should be in the background of a jewelry ad.

“Shadowy Sands,” (with Carter and his bass clarinet) playing sleepwalking jazz: like Herbie Hancock and Maiden Voyage, it should be background in a particularly swingin’ 60s film.

“Dodo’s Bounce,” while Carter’s flute is great (the flute actually sounds aggressive): No.

“Hymn of the Orient”: starts with frantic bari sax solo, then frantic trumpet; Dig-em Smacks of music– not as good as Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but definitely not All Bran. (Around 2:45, Carter’s Off To The Races with his quotes.)

“Bossa J.C.”: No.

“Tenderly,” beautiful song, chilling standard (particularly Chet Baker’s or Don Byas’); intro horn drips cool; Carter underscores it wisely by using the baritone end of his tenor… he runs, playful, at 5:30. He’s having a good time, hear?

On any track:

A thick, clear, articulate, confident tone even on the flute: is it the (somewhat) wide mouthpiece (7* on the tenor) facing and the Rico Plasticovers?

Is it soul alive in cold brass?

James Larry Carter! Take that badass sound and technique you own on every instrument and offend people. Use that fire that your playing always seems to suggest –suggest– and goddamn burn. Get so far out there you’re afraid you won’t get back. Get so far out you come back in. Fucking lose it.

Unless that’s all the fire you really have. Then enjoy having upper middle class well-educated white people love you.

There are worse fates.

Stay huddled around your technique and everyone will love you now.

Discard it, dump it, shed it and jump into the void, the maelstrom, the Coltrane… and they will love you forever.




*Shoot me for writing that, even ironically.
**Actually, since the average jazz listener is upper middle class and white (not caucasian–White), they probably said something like “I find his technique admirable and his timing whimsically executed.”).

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