James Carter – Present Tense

Tim Niland
Examiner.com National—23 May 2008

As mercurial as he is talented, this is saxophonist Carter’s fourth album on as many labels after a successful stint with Atlantic Records in the 1990’s. Produced by legendary jazz re-issue maven Michael Cuscuna of Mosaic Records fame, he was convinced that we hadn’t heard the true Carter, and vowed to bring him forth on this record. Supported by Dwight Adams on trumpet and flugelhorn, D.D. Jackson on piano, Rodney Jones on guitar, James Genus on bass, Victor Lewis on drums and Eli Fountain on percussion, they are quite successful and should be proud of their efforts. Carter is a musician with the entirety of jazz under his fingertips, and much like polymaths of the past like Jaki Byard and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, he is as comfortable with swing as with outre avant garde.

Opening with the swinging “Rapid Shave” with it’s brisk fanfare tempo, and along with Carter’s statements, there are fine solos from the trumpet and piano. “Bro. Dolphy” is a wonderful evocation of Eric Dolphy’s singular music and one of the highlights of the disc. Carter pays tribute without slavishly copying the great man’s music. “Pour Que Ma Vie Demeure”plays to one of his finest strengths, that of being a great ballad player. He gives a very lyrical reading, never allowing his prodigious technique to overwhelm the melody. “Sussa Nita” and “Bossa J.C.” have fine bossa nova grooves juxtaposed against deep saxophone. “Song of Delilah” has a Crescent period Coltrane feel, which is interesting because it always seemed to me that Carter drew his tenor inspiration form pre-bop masters like Don Byas and Ben Webster. “Dodo’s Bounce” is a jaunty flute feature, while the lengthy “Shadowy Sands” is an atmospheric and lush performance focusing on bass clarinet. “Hymn to the Orient” uses a fast drum intro to blast us full-bore into a smoldering tenor led hard bop exploration. Like throwing a belt-high fastball to a slugger, Carter smashes it out of the park. The ballad “Tenderly” ends the album on a contemplative note, with trumpet and tenor saxophone slowly caressing the theme.

This album successfully presents James Carter as an all around musician, proficient not just a number of different reed instruments, but comfortable in all tempos and situations. Where previous record labels have not known what to do with his extreme talent, Emarcy and Cuscuna realize that gimmicks are not needed, and that Carter’s music speaks for itself. This album speaks with true eloquence.


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.