The James Carter Organ Trio is not really a jazz trio at all. There are three people, but that’s the only rule of tradition that holds.
It performs more like a quartet, or a quintet, minus one or two players, most notably a bass player. But it’s the weightlessness of the bottom end that lets the trio soar.
Sunday night at the Egg’s Swyer Theater, saxman Carter, drummer Leonard King, and Hammond B-3 organist Gerard Gibbs played their steroid-swing acoustic jazz in heavy-metal “Carterian” fashion for a small but devout crowd.
They are kind of nuts. There is typically nothing grounding them—sometimes Gibb’s left hand carries the bass line, and sometimes King’s right foot carries a repeated rhythm on the bass drum. But for the most part, the three of them zoom around the tune, with Carter hovering way above them with his frantic blowing.
Carter physically attacks his solos, his body jerking left with a low quack, or arching back for a swift ascent to reach a series of high squeaky notes.
King occasionally rode a cymbal to create a rhythmic pocket, but that didn’t last long before he was rounding the toms and cracking the snare.
Even during Hoagey Carmichael’s “Stardust,” while Carter sustained some sweet moments, he went on the attack quickly, no more gentle moments in sight.
They morphed Django Reinhardt’s swing of “Nuage” into a heavy rocked-out version, King slammin’ away.
Gibbs took the first solo, laying down some big, fat organ chords, swooping up and down the keys The Hammond is a cool sound, and Gibbs makes the most of it
We did get the sweet side of Carter during a flute solo. But that eventually took off into crazy land as well.
Through the night, Carter played on an alto sax, a tenor, a baritone and a flute. He carries them on and off stage himself, When an audience member said he needed a roadie, he let us know that you need to keep your horns close to you. “These are extensions of yourself. Why would you let someone else carry your extensions?”
Drummer King sang the ballad “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone.” He did this while shushing his brushes speedily over the snare, one hand moving clockwise, the other counter-clockwise while singing at a much slower meter than his hands. Nothing about it was natural, but he displayed complete control with his steady voice.
“Lettuce Toss Your Salad,” a Leonard King tune, brought out more wonderful ruckus from Carter, who you realized then could not bear the weight of even one more person in the band.
Carter gave us the song names at the beginning of each set, to avoid talking gaps once the music started. Subsequently, there was barely 15 seconds between tunes. This was impressive physically, since the tunes were some 10 minutes long with constant pushing and sweating.
Gibbs played a beautiful gospel organ solo midway through the second set that triggered some soulful yells from him and the audience. They moved that into a swinging groove to play “Walking the Dog.”
America’s art form —jazz — remains a struggling market; it’s more popular in Europe. Carter and his band worked real hard Sunday night, because that’s how they play anyway.
But you got to thinking that they also have no choice but to play all their might every moment. Sadly, the ever-shrinking American market seems to require this kind of effort.