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James Carter Quartet


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"I don't really acknowledge any differences between the various musical offshoots.... To me, it's all part of the continuum," says tenor/alto/soprano/baritone saxophonist James Carter, at 27 one of the most lionized young musicians in jazz. (The underground buzz on Carter started a couple years ago, about the time he began appearing in bands led by the classicist Wynton Marsalis and the explorer Julius Hemphill--and it would be hard to find two musicians further apart in their approaches.) Carter's kaleidoscopic improvising builds on the similarly epic style of David Murray but takes it further: in a single solo he'll compress a crash course in the entire history of jazz saxophone. For a remarkable example, take his speeding "A-Train" (Duke Ellington's famous theme song, pushed around the bend) on last year's album Jurassic Classics (DIW). In this performance Carter races from vaudeville to avant-garde screech tones, then back to high-intensity bebop--all in the course of one exhilarating roller-coaster thrill ride of a solo. By contrast, on his other 1995 offering, The Real Quietstorm (Atlantic), he presented a program of self-conscious lyricism, with occasional moments of pop surrealism that recalled Rahsaan Roland Kirk. No one argues with Carter's credentials as either technician or jazz historian: he seems able to play virtually anything in any style on any saxophone at any time. The question, often enough, is Why? In the case of his "A-Train" solo, Carter managed to balance his omnivorous expressionism on the edge of extravagance. But when he falls over that edge (which happens with enough frequency to merit comment), he becomes a mere parody of the styles he venerates--and one capable of creating some uncommonly ugly music. (Will the real James Carter please stand up?) His batting average should improve with time. For now, the spectacle of his portmanteau style makes for something you definitely want to "experience" (in very much the Hendrix sense of the word). Friday, 9 and 11 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Scott Schafer.

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