Earshot Jazz Festival scores with James Carter and Gretchen Parlato

Hugo Kugiya
The Seattle Times

The 2010 Earshot Jazz Festival presented a rousing performance by tenor saxophonist James Carter this past Friday at the Triple Door. Vocalist Gretchen Parlato played an entrancing set there Sunday. Upcoming shows include Seattle drummer Matt Jorgensen’s premiere of “Tattooed by Passion,” Mavis Staples and many others.

The Triple Door, where the volcanic saxophonist James Carter performed with his Heaven on Earth quintet Friday, is a room with a unique gravity.

The subterranean music club is both airy and intimate and secures an emotional commitment from the audience — whether pushed to the walls, as it was during Carter’s two standing-room-only sets, or huddled at the front of the stage, as it was for singer Gretchen Parlato’s late set Sunday.

Both performed as part of the 2010 Earshot Jazz Festival, which is nearing its midpoint. The most comprehensive jazz festival in the Seattle area, Earshot continues through Nov. 7 with shows at various venues, from the Crocodile to Benaroya Hall, but the Triple Door is the festival’s primary stage.

Drummer Matt Jorgensen’s quintet, backed by a string quartet, performs there Tuesday, playing music inspired by Jorgensen’s late father-in-law, the Denver painter Dale Chisman; New York vocalist Lincoln Briney; and local singers Ben Black and Valerie Joyce team up for a tribute to Chet Baker on Wednesday; and Memphis/Chicago blues harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite plays the room Thursday.

Not all the shows during the first 10 days of the festival were well-attended — “It seemed to go in waves,” said Earshot director John Gilbreath — but audiences were partisan and passionate.

Carter’s rousing performance bolstered his reputation as a very physical player. The tenor saxophonist fully used his body and footwork, whether he was shattering the highest registers of his instrument or whispering its lowest notes.

He brought an all-star band that included John Medeski, who took orchestral command of the Hammond B3 organ.

Parlato, for whom the term siren seems to have been invented, performed several selections from her newest album, “In a Dream” (ObliqSound) — wistful, moody songs that suited her abilities as both a stylist and technician. Parlato held the audience at rapt attention with her gentle but entrancing tone. No slouch with her sidemen, Parlato, a recent winner of the prestigious Thelonious Monk competition, shared the stage with pianist Taylor Eigsti and drummer Kendrick Scott.

Saxophonist Tia Fuller, a member of Beyoncé’s touring band, opened for Parlato and nearly stole the night with a magnetic set that was equal parts funk and bop.

Tuesday’s performance by Jorgensen’s group will be enhanced by a simultaneous projection of the paintings that gave birth to Jorgensen’s newest album, “Tattooed by Passion” (Origin). Locked in a boutof writer’s block near the time of his father-in-law’s death, Jorgensen canceled a recording project before being illuminated by Chisman’s ability to “constantly reinvent himself,” he said. Tuesday will be the group’s first live performance of the songs from the album with the string quartet. Saxophonist Mark Taylor and trumpeter Thomas Marriott are part of Jorgensen’s Seattle-dominated quintet.

Taylor performs Wednesday at Tula’s, Marriott Nov. 6 at the Chapel Performance Space, each with his own group. Seattle pianist Dave Peck plays a solo set Friday at the Chapel.

Opening for Black, Briney and Joyce on Wednesday night at the Triple Door is The Teaching, the Seattle philosophical trio led by bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, who also plays the Chet Baker set.

Gospel singer Mavis Staples has rescheduled her performance at Town Hall from Saturday to Sunday, so she can appear in comedian Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” in Washington, D.C.

The passing of Earshot co-founder Gary Bannister, who died last week at age 61, was noted Saturday at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center. Gilbreath dedicated the night’s performance by the Darius Jones Trio to Bannister.

Hugo Kugiya: hkugiya@yahoo.com

Whether he’s playing tenor or soprano sax, shows off a sweet, sinuous tone; when he reinterprets Reinhardt’s classic Nuages with a bass sax, the muscular sound is distancing at first, but then it wraps itself around the listener like an anaconda.
-Christopher John Farley, TIME

There were passages in the program, especially during pieces such as Joe Henderson’s “Recorda Me,” in which Carter played with a surprisingly soft and tender sound, his improvisations filled with subtle melodic paraphrases. At other times, he added an appealing, burry edge to his tone—the result calling up images, on soprano saxophone, of Sidney Bechet.