I figure the people who go to see James Carter--a ferociously virtuosic multireedist who soared out of Detroit in the late 80s--fall into two camps these days. The first pays its money to marvel at his musical athleticism: hearing his flashy tricks on tune after tune is like watching Paul Konerko knock pitches out of the park during batting practice. The second comprises listeners who recognize the spectacle for what it is (a lot of sound and fury) but keep hoping for glimmers of genuine artistry--which in fact have appeared with increasing frequency over the years. (A third group gave up on Carter a decade ago, dismissing his hyperexpressivity as showboating.) At his best--on several tunes from 2003's Billie Holiday tribute Gardenias for Lady Day (Columbia), for example--he reins in his fearsome technique to concentrate on the melody beneath the notes; by keeping his power in reserve, revealing it only when it counts, he produces some nuanced, affecting interpretations. Carter's only in his mid-30s, so I continue to hope that someday he'll tip the balance from hyperbole to meaningful expression. Then again, undeniable artists in any field--music (Art Tatum), acting (Robin Williams), and sports (Michael Jordan), to name three--occasionally succumb to the temptation to show off that comes with such freakish talent. For these dates Carter will appear as part of an organ trio, arguably the best showcase for his playing; it's long been an acceptable setting for a bit of histrionics. Carter's nifty continuation of the organ-trio legacy features organist Gerald Gibbs and drummer Leonard King. See also Wednesday and Thursday; the group's run lasts through Sunday, March 19. Tue 3/14, 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.