An artist long intrigued by contrasts and hybrids, saxophonist James Carter resists comfortable categorization. Born in 1969 and raised in Detroit, he grew up surrounded by music, soaking up everything from funk and fusion to rock, soul, and various strains of acoustic jazz. It was the late trumpeter Lester Bowie who first brought Carter to New York, inviting him to perform with his New York Organ Combo.
The Bowie connection led to Carter's debut recording, 1993's JC on the Set, a quartet tour de force that announced the arrival of a superlative new talent equally expressive on alto, tenor, and baritone sax (though he's added several other horns over the years, most importantly soprano sax). Carter quickly won a reputation for being able to play jazz in just about any style while maintaining an originality and a flare all his own. His versatility him chances to collaborate with a wide range of artists, including Julius Hemphill, Kathleen Battle, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cyrus Chesnut, and Wynton Marsalis.
Carter always finds a way into his present musical situation. "You have to be totally comfortable wherever," he says. "I think there's tremendous beauty in cross-pollinations of music and influences." In 2000, he released two albums simultaneously that seemed to proclaim everything fair game: Chasin' the Gypsy, a voluptuous, lyrical session partly inspired by the timeless collaboration between Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli; and the groove-laden Layin' in the Cut, which combines harmolodic freedom with a deep reservoir of funk. In subsequent years, he paid loving tribute to Billie Holiday on 2003's Gardenias for Lady Day and explored the music of alt-rock band Pavement on 2005's Gold Sounds.
In recent years, Carter has also reinvented the organ combo with Out of Nowhere (2005), with John Medeski on Heaven and Earth (2009), and with At the Crossroads (2011), his latest release. Featuring the lithe and muscular keyboard work of Detroit's rising B3 star Gerard Gibbs and the propulsive drum support of veteran Motor City trap master Leonard King Jr., At the Crossroads marks the 10th anniversary of the multigenerational James Carter Organ Trio. A sensational follow-up to the saxophonist's acclaimed Emarcy release Caribbean Rhapsody (2011), Carter's 15th album documents his trio's combustible chemistry, with a Detroit-centric cast of special guests adding fuel to the celebratory fire.
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