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Gifted Detroit saxophonist pays tribute to gypsy guitarist at Jazz Fest

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The saxophonist hailing from Detroit has a thing for the gypsy guitarist hailing from France.

James Carter had a successful 2000 album, Chasing the Gypsy, celebrating guitarist Django Reinhardt, he continued the homage with two Winnipeg International Jazz Festival shows Saturday night, titled Django Unchained.

The love of Reinhardt's beautiful hot jazz is clear, even if the format of a grooving trio of saxophone, Hammond B-3 organ and drums seems, on the surface, an odd choice to express it.

Think of it as the Hot Club of France transplanted to Detroit’s legendary Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. 

Carter is a master player; equally adept on tenor, alto and soprano saxophones. But he seemed particularly playful and engaged interpreting the swinging jazz of Reinhardt's guitar in his early show. 

Backed by the sumptuous B-3 playing of Gerard Gibbs and the drumming of Leonard King, Carter used all three of those horns, and many of his trademark tricks, to convey Reinhardt's highly rhythmic sound. 

Carter opened the show with an unaccompanied, very melodic soprano solo on Wonderful You before the organ and drums joined to make the sound swell up. The saxophonist closed it out with a piercing, high-note solo. 

Carter’s big, bold tenor sound marked the next tune, Castle of My Dreams. He switched to alto sax, with a big honking sound on Mirrors, a composition by Batik Reinhardt, one of Django’s sons.

Melodies Au Crepuscule highlighted Carter at his best on a lengthy unaccompanied solo with lots of melodic playing and hoots and hollers. There is seldom a dull moment in a Carter performance, partly because of his skill and partly because of his ability to switch styles and emotions so seamlessly in a single piece.

The band also paid tribute to legendary jazz pianist and composer Horace Silver, who died June 18 at 85, by performing his composition Silver Serenade.

Silver put a little funk into his music, and the Carter trio’s grooving’ version was a fitting homage.

Virtually any Carter concert is worth your while, but his ability to transform gypsy swing into Detroit grooves was a transformation to be heard.

 

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

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