James Carter (with Heaven on Earth): Diminishing
Heaven on Earth
Heaven on Earth (Halfnote 4542)
Composed by Django Reinhardt.
Recorded: Live at the Blue Note, New York, May 8-9, 2009
Rating: 92/100 (learn more)
What does it mean when a group of crack jazz musicians gets together to make a thinly-disguised rock record? Is it a crass sell-out, or a stimulating attempt to reinvigorate their art with a dose of contemporary sounds? And why did they pick a mostly forgotten old Django Reinhardt tune for their honking and braying? Is this a tongue-in-cheek attempt at humor? Or does this performance have some hidden connection to jazz Manouche that I am missing?
So many questions. . . But I just chalk this up to James Carter being James Carter. Like Rahsaan Roland Kirk (whom Carter reminds me of in so many ways), this star horn player is a musical chameleon who is so capable of adapting to every situation that one can only sit back and marvel at so many different sonic personalities co-existing inside a single soloist. Of course Carter would grab an old Django song, since he always is pulling out some dusty chart from long ago. And of course he would play in some fresh, unconventional way, because. . . well, because he always does just that. Then again, I never thought he would play rock sax, but I am not surprised he does it so well. He purges all the Swing Era and bebop licks from his vocabulary and works instead with a dizzying array of sound textures. Here and there one can find bits of funk and post-Ayler speaking-in-reeds, but nothing persists for long in his raucously rambling Rambo of a solo.
Even if Carter had considered a more traditional approach to the tune, the creative commotion coming from the rhythm section would not have allowed it. I am not sure I would have ever thought of putting this S.W.A.T. team of rhythm—Christian McBride (on electric bass), John Medeski (on Hammond B-3), Adam Rogers and Joey Baron—together with Mr. Carter, and even if I had, I don't think I would have expected this kind of rocker sensibility. But the chemistry is frightening, and even if the track doesn't quite live up to the band's claim of "heaven on earth," these players do a helluva job.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia