A Glimpse of Detroit Jazz

James Carter Quintet

Detroit Institute of Arts

Friday July, 27 2007

If James Carter was a pugilist instead of, pound for pound, one of the most talented saxophonists of his generation, he would be the kind of fighter celebrated for his power punches. And Friday night (July 29th), at the DIA, Carter came out swinging. This was the saxophonist’s first hometown performance in awhile, and his quintet, which is comprised of all Detroit jazz musicians, performed two hour-and-a-half sets. As expected, Carter was fired up. The man did some extraordinary things with his instruments -- his tenor growling, his baritone performing circus-like tricks, and his flute singing beautifully.

Despite Carter’s brilliance, the opening set was a little rough, almost as though the band members were just playing for self-gratification alone. Pianist Gerard Gibbs was in his own world. He made strange facial gestures while playing, and he often turned to the audience for approval after soloing. Gibbs is generally an organist, and his inexperience as a pianist showed. All night, he seemed to have a tough time keeping up with the others.

But Gibbs wasn’t the only one out of place. Drummer Leonard King’s solos were loud and boring. But whereas Gibbs and King were misfits, trumpeter Dwight Adams and bassist Ralph Armstrong blended perfectly with Carter. Armstrong was all over the bass strings, although he didn’t get as much solo time as his bandmates.

It’s a shame that a trumpeter as gifted as Adams remains unsigned. He was charming on ballads and resolute during those moments when Carter was feeling rambunctious. Adams matched the saxophonist note for note, yet never attempted to outplay the band leader.

The second set was much better than the first. The group settled into a comfortable rhythm, and they sounded like a well-rehearsed unit throughout. Even Carter was more mature and sophisticated. Gone were all the showboating antics and he managed to keep the audience captivated throughout the group’s latter moments. Reviewed by Charles L. Latimer

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