Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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James Carter

  • The Real Quietstorm [Atlantic, 1995] A
  • Conversin' With the Elders [Atlantic, 1996] A
  • In Carterian Fashion [Atlantic, 1998] A-
  • Chasin' the Gypsy [Atlantic, 2000] A
  • Layin' in the Cut [Atlantic, 2000] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Real Quietstorm [Atlantic, 1995]
I don't see the point of comparing the most prodigious young jazzman since David Murray if not Ornette to anyone less titanic than Sonny Rollins. He can play anything, with a giant sound on all four saxes plus bass flute and bass clarinet. I greatly enjoy and highly recommend his two blowing sessions for DIW, JC on the Set and Jurassic Classics, with the latter slightly favored for its classic heads--Monk, Ellington, Rollins, Coltrane, Clifford Brown. Still, neither suggests much reason for the playing beyond the playing itself, however sufficient a cause that may be. This romantic set has some concept. Two unfazed Carter originals complement a surprising selection of make-out music by Monk, Ellington, Sun Ra, Bill Doggett, Carter's main man Don Byas. Not only is it more unified, it's more pop, which intensifies the aesthetic charge. And Carter lets Byas's "1944 Stomp" rip so fast and hard you'll order up a blowing session immediately. A

Conversin' With the Elders [Atlantic, 1996]
Say his Wynton Marsalis side provides technique, ambition, maybe focus. Plus, OK, respect for his elders--for sure he's not mocking or upstaging Buddy Tate and Sweets Edison. But it's his Lester Bowie side that inclines him to adore their melodiousness, and their melodies. It's his Bowie side that covers a march by elder Anthony Braxton, consorts with Coltrane via elder Hamiet Bluiett, revs his own waltz into a flag-waver and reduces it to a cartoon. It's his Bowie side that covers the Lester Bowie reggae, defining the grooveful, comic, demotic tone of everything that follows. A jazz album, absolutely. But one any rock and roller who can abide a saxophone could love. A

In Carterian Fashion [Atlantic, 1998]
I could call the organ a pop concept, but fact is I enjoy this as a jazz record. Just by blowing so lustily and swinging so edgily, Carter puts out more personality and pleasure than all but a few musical word-slingers. Deep meanings? I dunno. Aren't we in this for the pizzazz? A-

Chasin' the Gypsy [Atlantic, 2000]
Sonically and conceptually, audacity is Carter's m.o. He always makes sure you know he's in the room. So on this bow to Django--an attention-getting device in itself, of course--he grabs hold of Reinhardt's famed "Nuages" with a totally inappropriate bass saxophone and never lets go. Does the European proud, too--even on soprano Carter is a gutty presence, overlaying just enough raunch for anyone who's always found the tributee a touch quiet. With two well-schooled moderns taking what are no longer lead lines on guitar and Regina Carter a more muscular Stéphane Grappelli, this is the spirit marriage a tribute should be. It swings like a horse thief, parlays Fransay, and adores the melody. A

Layin' in the Cut [Atlantic, 2000]
Never fear--the most gifted and broad-minded young jazzman on the set hasn't succumbed to the dreaded amplifier. Hooking up with Ornette bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Blood drummer G. Calvin Weston, heavy guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, and fleet guitarist Marc Ribot is just a way for him to make another record without his touring band, write heads while nobody's looking, pay respects to a strain straighter coreligionists disdain, and prove he can rock a little, quite possibly while finishing the crossword. Not that there's anything distracted or desultory about this funk, this blues, this Latin, this harmolodic fusion, this free jazz. But he sure does make them seem second nature. A

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