James Carter is big and tall, a saxophone master with a smile. Always sharp and with chapeau, the Detroit-based player brings a cache of saxes of all sizes to the Harbor Stage at the Newport Jazz Festival. Then, with a "How y'all doin? How y'all be?" James runs down the set and delivers it. He comes out ferocious, but he's just as committed when he plays tender.
First, the Organ Trio opens with a burner, then pulls back a little for a Brother Jack McDuff (1926-2001) shuffle, and moves on with a Carter tango, "Sussa Nita," from his CD Present Tense. That's a good title; Carter is vigilant onstage. In "Misterio," by Canadian guitarist Guido Luciano, Gerrard Gibbs at the keys adds vocal samples for more color under the Newport sky.
Besides touring with Carter, Gibbs leads organ trios in Detroit at Floods and Cliff Bells. Richard "Groove" Holmes was his first inspiration. Drummer Leonard King was once Carter's teacher. He's been on the music scene since the 1960s, and with Carter in the Chasin the Gypsy Band, Organ Quintet and Trio since the 1990s.
Dug-in tempos (fast at first), broad melodies, long tones, circular breathing, slap tonguing, dynamics, extended endings with many deceptions, drama, humor — the set is all this plus a history lesson.
"My Whole Life Through"-- co-written by Sarah McLawler and Eddie Durham — works the ballad side of the organ trio. At 83, McLawler is a legendary New York performer whom James Carter calls his spiritual mother. The night before this set, Carter saw her at Chez Josephine, playing three sets standing up. Eddie Durham (1906-1987) played guitar and trombone, composed "Topsy" for Count Basie, arranged "In the Mood" for Glenn Miller and composed and arranged for the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.
Caribbean Rhapsody is the latest James Carter album. Gerard Gibbs and ReORGAN'YZ play on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month at Floods Bar & Grille in downtown Detroit. Gibbs and drummer Leonard King are on board with the James Carter Organ Trio in Europe in July, October and November of 2011.
Recording by David Tallacksen, WBGO. Remix in Surround Sound by Antonio Oliart, WGBH.