James Carter, the saxophone and clarinet master, celebrated his 43rd birthday on Tuesday. Here’s an uncut Blindfold Test for Downbeat from 2000.
1. Roscoe Mitchell, “Dragons,” (from HEY, DONALD, Delmark, 1996) (Mitchell, soprano saxophone; Malachi Favors, bass; Jodie Christian, piano; Albert Heath, drums) – (5 stars)
I’m waiting for the rest of the cats to come in, if there are such cats. right now it sounds reminiscent of Roscoe Mitchell, particularly with the way that the saxophonist is shaping the tone and… Hmm! Sounds a lot like Roscoe. Definitely has some Mitchellian approach to it. Especially by the staggered entrances that the cats have. On a previous blindfold test I was able to pick him out on tenor, so I’d be really surprised if I’m stumped! [LAUGHS] Is this the double quartet? No? This is just Shipp and Craig? It’s Craig? Oh, no! Good glivens! But yeah, that’s definitely Sco. That shows you how distinctive the cat is. Hey, that’s one of THE cats. Particularly on soprano and alto, he definitely has a personality all his own. I’d love to hear more of his bass saxophone playing, and perhaps we might have to get back in touch with one another and see if we can make this happen somewhere down the line. Because the last time we talked, he was just getting into the recorder real tight, and other baroque instruments as well, and he was kind of talking about acquiring Gerald Oshita’s sarrousophone and some other instruments he had in order to augment his own arsenal. I was looking along those lines, too, to really get a sarrousophone, but thankfully I did get one, which I premiered at our tenure last year at the Blue Note with the electric band. I played a James Blood Ulmer composition on it. Everybody couldn’t get over the size of the thing, first of all, not to mention what the hell was coming out of it. I’m into anything Roscoe does because his spirit is always at the helm of it, and dealing with other things. Five stars all the way . That energy in particular, and the way he concentrates his energy and eggs other people on regardless of whatever the personnel is, to get the energy going as well, whether it’s fast and furious or slow and concentrated. It has its way of oozing out methodically. It definitely is logical and makes you think.
2. Lucky Thompson, “Anthropology” (from LUCKY MEETS TOMMY FLANAGAN AND FRIENDS, Fresh Sound, 1965/1992) – (Tommy Flanagan, piano; Willie Ruff, bass; Oliver Jackson, drums) – (4 stars)
Sounds like Branford. No? Well, there’s our stumper. I’m still going to justify that it sounded like Branford in the early part of the delivery because of the tone. In listening to the way the solo stars as well, it definitely has some Steeptonial approaches to it and all. But I quite sure we’ll find who this is a little later. So it’s not Steeptone, and it’s not… I don’t know how Lacy even came into this mix. Pardon me for even thinking that! This is really going to help. A piano solo! According to the little clue, we’re looking at ’65-’66 when this was happening. Let me scuttle on this one. Whoever this is, I can’t really say that they are tippin’ as a rhythm section and in the solos as a whole. I like the transition up a fourth from concert B-flat into E-flat in the solos and all, so that’s really hip, just to give it a whole other lift. Ah, and it resolves back down to the B-flat. Hmm! I’m drawing a blank on mid-’60 sopranos, for some reason. Of course, during that time, Trane’s influence was so prevalent. I know it’s not him! 4 stars. [AFTER] Lucky Thompson! Man! [LAUGHS] Now, that’s somebody I’d definitely love to do an album with. Tommy Flanagan? I certainly wouldn’t have thought it was him. My first reference of him playing soprano was the beginning of the ’70s. Other than that, with things like “Tricotism” on Impulse, he’s the sort of cat I think of on tenor. Yeah, flame on!
3. Roland Kirk, “IX Love” (from ACES BACK TO BACK, 32 Jazz, 1969/1998) – (3-1/2 stars)
Whoo, lush strings! Cat’s hollering in the midst of strings! Hollering in the midst of the forest! Yeeooow! This sounds kind of recent, but I don’t want to say that. The passage there with the staccato sounds kind of Newkish. But I know it’s not Newk because he doesn’t use altissimo in that particular range. He goes a tad higher than that. Plus the guy’s ideas in the beginning don’t make reference to Newk. [Do you know the tune?] I have a hint of it. It’s one that I wouldn’t mind learning. There isn’t a whole lot that can really be done with it. I like the string arrangement. 3-1/2 stars. I liked it all around. It seemed like the piano and vibes were mirroring themselves, with the vibes seeming to piggyback off the piano, and it sounds kind of heavy, especially when certain tenor statements were being made, and it seemed to get in the way. It wasn’t a real homogenous sound, but more like here’s the piano over here and the brass over here, and the strings are situated somewhere in the center or back to give you a shiny dish over rice sort of feeling. [AFTER] Roland Kirk? If it was Rahsaan, one of the things… Now that I think about it, that high-C he did on there would have tipped me off to him, especially when you think of “Hog-Callin’ Blues.” This is 1969? One thing that would have tipped me off is if he’d done the obvious two-saxophone thing where he plays octaves with himself in certain spots. Also the use of double- and triple tonguing in certain areas. [Believe me, it was hard to find a piece by Rahsaan for you!]] You definitely did your work on this one to trip me out. It was definitely esoteric in certain areas where I wouldn’t have thought of it as Kirk.
4. Sam Rivers-Tony Hymas, “Twelve” (from WINTER GARDEN, NATO, 1998) – (3-1/2 stars)
Nice tenor beginning. That’s a nice ostinato going on with the piano and bass. Now more interactive. Sounds like Cecil Taylor a little bit, one of his extrapolated ideas of how boogie-woogie would be dealt with in the left hand and the accents… This cat’s hittin’! The pianist is happening. As disjunct and dense as it is, it has a full orchestra sound to me, the way the pianist is dealing. The saxophone is where I’m drawing some blanks! This is getting meaty! It isn’t Muhal either, is it. Damn! [What do you think about the saxophone player's sound?] The way it was miked reminded me of the way I got miked for The Real Quiet Storm on certain things. I guess filtered is a good way to put it, as opposed to the open nasal passage sound that would normally expect when you hear it live. It has a filtered sort of quality to it. Stifled. I’m stumped. I liked the performance. 3-1/2 stars. [AFTER] I always loved Sam Rivers since Winds of Manhattan and Capricorn Rising with Pullen. [Was that recognizable as him now that you know his identity? Or was it a bad selection to give you?] It was definitely not a bad selection to give me. Part of the reason I dig these Blindfold Tests is the way they make you think on what’s happening now as well as what’s happened in the past. These selections make me think about what’s really being put down, what has been put down, and how one’s listening habits have changed over the years, and one’s perception as well. And also, it helps me go out and look for some other repertoire. Probably when I leave here, I’ll make a beeline for the Virgin Megastore over here on Broadway and see what else I can cop. So all selections are good.
5. Steve Coleman-Von Freeman-Greg Osby, “It’s You” (from TRANSMIGRATION, DIW-Columbia, 1991) – (4 stars) – (Coleman, alto sax; Freeman, tenor sax; Osby, alto sax; David Gilmour, guitar; Kenny Davis, bass; Marvin Smith, drums)
We’ve got some spiciness here! “The Song Is You”. It has a Bobby Watson fluidity to it. This also sounds recent. It’s not part of that M-BASE thing, is it? Steve Coleman. I could tell certain things. It doesn’t sound like Osby, so this is the first logical choice. As soon as I heard the alternate stuff that was on it. So is it logical to say the tenor player might be Gary Thomas? No? Almost sounds like… I got some shades of John Stubblefield in there, but no. Taking it up the high area, the deliberate bending and shaking of certain notes. So we’re stumped tenor-wise. The second alto player is Osby, isn’t it? I think this is too early for the tenor player to be Shim. [Does the tenor player sound like a contemporary of theirs or someone older?] In certain areas it sounds like it might be a little older. I’ve definitely got to give mad props to the rhythm section keeping this stuff cooking at a nice intense little simmer. [on the 4's] The tenor player is trippin’ out! There’s something about the high end that tenor player is using. Oh, aa double bass pedal! For some reason, that definitely rules out Cindy! I’m not saying she isn’t capable of it, but I’ve never seen it in any of our dealing. I’m definitely stumped on the tenor player. 4 stars. It was cooking, and there were some interesting tonalities going on in the midst of a nice staple like this. [AFTER] Man! It makes sense that it’s Von Freeman, when you think about it. He’s always seemed ahead of the time anyway. Definitely when you think of George Freeman and the One Night In Chicago that he did with Bird. I definitely agree with the liner notes that spoke of him as presaging Jimi Hendrix in a lot of explorations, like the distortion in his playing and his use of space and his deliberate lower tones, like the F and E he was using in certain areas. It was definitely ahead of the time. Different. So it makes a heckuva lot of sense to think of it from that standpoint. I had a chance to play with George Freeman when I was in Julius’ group, and I think we did The Last Supper At uncle Tom’s Cabin, and went to hang out on the South Side and caught a session, and George was part of the band. He was all the way up in the stratosphere! I haven’t actually met Von yet. George and Chico are the only ones I’ve played with.
6. Coleman Hawkins-Don Byas-Harry Carney, (from “Three Little Words,” COLEMAN HAWKINS: THE COMPLETE KEYNOTE SESSIONS, Mercury, 1944/1987) – (5 stars)
[IMMEDIATELY] This is Hawkins. And I dare say early to mid ’40s. I own this one. I hear Carney in the beginning of it. One can one say about Hawkins and his playing, particularly during this time, when he got back from the five-year stint in Europe. Carney’s playing on baritone is indispensable. He’s the one who wrote the book on how baritone should be played and what one could look forward to in the future out of it from all the areas he’s played in. I was listening to something last night from 1927-28. Mostly you would think about the baritone as an immobile instrument during this time, but here’s Carney playing it with the same fluidity and agility as an alto — or a clarinet I even venture to say. This tune was up in tempo, and he was making all the changes. For somebody you’d think of as a “Sophisticated Lady” player, holding the one note and making the one statement and anchoring the section, this definitely shows you another side. Just one of the different facets that’s Duke’s men come out with in any situation. And this isn’t a Duke situation. I know this is a Hawkins date. Cozy Cole isn’t on drums on this, is he? No? Okay. Is the alto player Tab Smith? Another one of the technical cats who could also fly up there. He reminds me of a variation off of Benny Carter’s playing. The attack is more exaggerated, but it still comes out of that same school. Nice diction. It’s more chopped-up, but it still swings. the pendulum’s just rocking that much harder! Yeah, give it, Bean! The first tenor solo was… Play it back! He was only dealing with a couple of people at that time. It’s either Byas or Frog [Ben Webster] But I knew Hawkins was on this . That’s Byas. It sounds like it’s during the time he was using that radio-approved saxophone, too. One of Hawkins’ children. Right up under there. Five stars. Times two. Exponentially.
7. Gary Smulyan-Bob Belden, “Charleston Blue”, (from BLUE SUITE, Criss-Cross, 1999) – (3 stars)
Piano and baritone. And drums. And a rhythm section. And a whole band. A bari feature! Hot damn. Some tonation problems there… If it’s not Pepper Adams, it sounds like someone who’s been listening to Pepper. I think it’s Pepper! Then I’ll go out on a limb and say Smulyan. He’s from the Pepper school. Which is a great thing. When you think about the axes, Pepper was always a Selmer cat, and to get this same sound out of a Conn, which I know is Smulyan’s instrument of choice, is a great feat. Then again, it’s also the mouthpiece. But in that particular era, to have the extra nuts in reserve and to have something that’s not… The tune is definitely a groover and it’s got enough changes to keep you going mobile in your thinking… Coming from a player’s standpoint, not to mention a listener’s, there’s enough harmonic material and information in there to leave you wanting more. It has a Perry Mason sort of feel, like incidental music. It might be the EQ’ing on this system, but he goes into the background especially when it’s time for the arrangement to come back in. Those situations are the nuts are supposed to come in. That was the climax. 3 stars.
8. Fred Anderson, “To Those Who Know”, (LIVE AT THE VELVET LOUNGE, Okka Disk, 1998) – (3-1/2 stars) – (Peter Kowald, bass)
Nice little tenor in the back. Some low percussive instrument. Is this just a duo? Oh I did say there was something percussive in the back. Nice esoteric interactions. It sounds akin to Parker and Graves, Charles Gayle running up the middle! No, it’s too tame for Charles! It sounds familiar. You’re enjoying this, aren’t you! It’s starting to heat up now! But I’m stumped as to who it is. Now, they’re definitely doing it up. I can hear some other things the tenor player could be doing. I mean, the bass player is all over the place, and the tenor player is not meeting the bass player’s energy. It’s like he’s echoing his ideas that were in the slower part of it. He’s still in largo; my man went off in vivace on him! Maybe if the drummer was in at the time, that would probably help. But then, that could be another component he’d have to meet as well. He didn’t meet him, considering what the man is doing bowing-wise. That’s a lot of momentum in what my man is doing bow-wise to sustain everything. Uh-oh! 3-1/2 stars for the bass player’s energy… Well, the collective energy as a whole, but the bass player really is sticking out to me. He’s got some [Fred] Hopkins up in there. He knows the overtone series. Yeah! Okay! Yeah! All right, surprise me. [AFTER] The cat from Chicago? The old Fred Anderson? I could have used more energy from him, considering where the bass player was going. 3-1/2. I give props to anybody who’s that age and is dealing.
9. Chu Berry, “Shufflin’ At The Hollywood” (from LIONEL HAMPTON SMALL GROUPS, VOL.2, Music Memory, 1939/1990) – (5 stars) – (Lionel Hampton, vibes;
Uh-oh, frying the bacon! Chu Berry. Lionel Hampton. This is right before his untimely death, probably late ’40 or early ’41. But this was done along that same time when Lionel Hampton did the version of “Sweethearts On Parade” and a couple of other tunes. What can be said about Chu Berry? My God. Somebody who definitely died too young. Don Byas’ predecessor in terms of playing in between changes. He always had that driving, rolling, authoritative tone. Which is why, of course, he was Hawkins’ logical successor in the Fletcher Henderson band, I feel. In talking with older individuals such as Buddy Tate, there were some other things I got to learn about him. He also circular-breathed, and also repaired his own instruments, which I think was a real unknown phenomenon then for musician. I mean, he actually repaired his axe. I don’t mean put a little
piece of foil and bring a rubber band over here sort of repair. None of that. He actually finessed his axe, from what Buddy Tate and a couple of cats told me. I feel akin to him in a lot of ways. I repair my own axes, and I like that rolling, authoritative sound, like I’m here, happy to be here. He was really coming into his own at the time that he passed. Lionel Hampton, Chu Berry, all them cats. 5-plus stars for all classics like that. Thank God for them. Thank God for Chu Berry and all the cats who paved the way.
10. Charles Lloyd, “Heaven” (from THE WATER IS WIDE, ECM, 1999) – (4 stars) – (Brad Mehldau, piano; John Abercrombie, guitar; Brad Mehldau, piano; Billy Higgins, drums)
That’s interesting. “Heaven.” Is this Charles Lloyd? I remember Forest Flower, and it had that same sort of attack. We had a saxophonist in Detroit by thee name of Sam Sanders who had that sort of approach, where he muffles and then there are some expletives in there at the peaks. So I’m able to align myself with that. The rhythm-section is easy, laid-back. The piano. Mmm! Yeah! I haven’t really peeped that much of Charles Lloyd over the years, with the exception of Forest Flower and hearing other things on the radio, but without a conscious, premeditated effort, but I’ve always noticed that he’s had a very distinctive sound. He looks distinctive in the way that I’ve seen him on albums and seen him play maybe once, while on tour. It’s got a round, shapeable sort of tone that was almost akin to C-melody when it started out, particularly in the middle register. And I like the meditative flow of it, so 4 stars.
11. Hamiett Bluiett-Blood Ulmer, “The Dawn” (from IN THE NAME OF…, DIW, 1993) (5 stars)
A baritone-guitar thing, huh. It almost sounds like Bluiett. I’m judging by the semblance in tonal weight in what I’m hearing. I think it would have gone somewhere else if it was, but this is still kind of early. [SOLO STARTS] It is Bluiett! This is before 1994. I know that.. I can judge because this is that Selmer. He didn’t have the low-A. This is a low-A on here. Whooo! That’s Bluiett. That’s what they should have had the Velvet Lounge! That would be interesting. Him and that bad cat Peter Kowald. What happened in ’94 is Bluiett sold his horn to Bob Ackerman for a Conn that he’s now playing and some money. I was so outdone when he did that, because I wanted that mug. I mean, there’s a whole lot of history up in that horn. This is the same horn that was at the Mingus thing, from the onset of the World Saxophone Quartet — his natural axe. He said one of his students wound up getting it from Ackerman. This is a bad horn! I don’t feel bad now, because I’ve since got the one that was on all the Motown stuff. [Do you know who Bluiett's playing with?] It sounds like Sharrock or someone like that. Is this Blood? And this isn’t Jamaladeen, is it? It sounds too disjunct and too thumbish to be him. I could see this going off into a funk groove every time that comes up, but it goes back into he free thing, and it’s like a catch-me-if-you-can sort of thing. You want to just break that mug down, but it doesn’t go that way, and it’s like, “Oh, man, we’re back into it again.” I like it, though. Tonal-wise and agility-wise, Bluiett is my logical extension of what Carney did. When you think about distinctive tones, it just stuck out in my mind even before hearing him play. The only thing that took me off-guard was that it was a Selmer recording as opposed to listening to him in the last couple of years on this Conn, which as I mentioned before, with Smulyan’s, has a different weight to it that Selmers don’t have. Also, a certain type of cat can transcend the characteristics of any given make of instrument and make it his own, and Bluiett is definitely indicative of that. 5 stars. [AFTER] Cornell Rochester! We did a trio, Cornell, Jamaladeen and myself at the Groningen Festival in the Netherlands in either ’93 or ’94. We were all over the place that year. Then also, during that time, I was dealing with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Mingus thing, and I was in the meat of my dealings with Lester and Julius at this time as well. J.C. On The Set pretty much came out that year in Japan and was making its way back state-side the following year.
12. Walt Weiskopf, “Anytown” (from ANYTOWN, Criss-Cross, 1998) – ( stars) – (Joe Locke, vibes; Renee Rosnes, piano; Billy Drummond, drums)
Whoever this has this Brecker-Joe Henderson thing going on. The composition sounds like “Inner Urge” here and there. The fluidity reminds you of a Breckerish sort of thing. Now little splashes of Wayne going on in there, too. I like the vibe player’s feel, too. Stefon? Sure it’s not, huh? Cat’s got a nice feel. This cat is moving! I like this cat! I like to hear instruments that you don’t hear played in a conventional style, where you wind up hearing a cross pollination of influences, where you don’t think of a vibe player just playing block chords with four mallets. You actually the cat influenced by saxophone and piano players. This isn’t Margitza, is it? All right, that was a first stab, ladies and gents. I like the shades of the “Inner Urge” feel it has. Very mobile. It’s like I can almost call off the changes just by hearing it go by. E-flat. F. G-sharp. G-flat. Yeah! A-minor back to B-flat. Nice, tied-together rhythm section. The whole thing is tight. 4 stars.
13. David Murray-Don Pullen, “Blues For Savannah” (from SHAKILL’S WARRIOR, DIW, 1991) – (4 stars)
Ah, they’re shuffling the deck. That organ’s another mug, man. It almost sounds like David. Especially when he smears at the beginning of the notes. That’s reminiscent of what I think he got out of the Rollins bag. Yup, that is him. Big bruh’! [LAUGHS] One of the things with David, I noticed… Good anecdote. When we did Kansas City, the one tune he wound up playing on, where he played Herschel Evans, which I think seemed kind of ironic, where I’m in the part of Ben Webster, and he’s looking like Ben Webster like a mug! But when he played Coleman Hawkins’ entry line on that section there, he sounded just like Hawkins, with the embellishments and everything. When you think of somebody who pretty much the media wants to say he doesn’t have any semblance of history… The same thing with Cecil Taylor. I hear history in these players. It’s what I aspire to, to always have the history at the fingertips and be able to expound upon it. After he did the actual Hawkins passage going into the solos, and he just went from there… Of course, it was kind of far-fetched when you think of the 1934 period that we were trying to represent, and all of a sudden you have this cat going into the upper register of the horn and just playing! It was definitely something akin to David, but at the same time he let you know within that short amount of time that “I still know the history, but this is me nonetheless.” I think those people who were there might have missed that. That was an epiphany for me. I always knew that, but it just reminded me. The same as the first time I saw Sun Ra play. They were space-chording for like 15 minutes or so during the first part of a 60-75 minute performance, and broke it down into “Queer Notions,” just like this. Had three drummers playing, and John Gilmore was playing the whole Coleman Hawkins thing, note-for-note, the outgoing passage, the whole bit. Did the same thing with “Yeah, Man.” All the cats played all the solos. That was a great epiphany for me.
Getting back to the meat of the matter with this, the cats are rocking. That’s the first thing I noticed with the organ trio. Amina? No? [Does it sound like someone who plays a lot of organ trio function?] Definitely, with a shuffle like that. Oh, man! No, that’s definitely not Amina. I don’t know what… Sorry, Amina. It almost sounds like a MIDI keyboard. When you think of the Smith groove-Jack McDuff sound that has that analog, this sounds really cleaned up. That’s what I’m really thinking. That Leslie sort of oscillating vibe. Sounds like a clean roller rink sound. I’m stumped. [AFTER] I could have used a little more meat in the organ. But they were rocking, and Cyrille was shuffling the deck as if he was one of them Jo Jones type cats. Hmm! He had his deck of cards with him. And David is always the voice as far as I’m concerned.
14. Count Basie, “Ode To Pres” (from THE GOLDEN YEARS, Pablo, 1979/1996) – (5 stars) – (Clark Terry, trumpet; Budd Johnson, bs; Harry Sweets Edison, tp; Eddie Lockjaw Davis, ts; John Heard, bass) – (5 stars)
[AFTER 8 BARS] “Ode to Pres”. Part of the Pablo series, Basie Jam #2. So this is probably John Heard. Lockjaw Davis is on it. That’s Clark Terry. Budd Johnson, playing baritone! It’s so hip how you can take just one idea from a great cat such as Pres. This whole song as based on his opening line off “Jive At Five.” Lockjaw Davis is on it, and all of a sudden turn that one phrase into a blues like this. The Basie style, of course, just tipping, and Freddie Green behind him on guitar just tippin’. That’s Sweets. Okay, so it’s Clark Terry, Sweets, Budd Johnson, Lock… I know Lock’s on it. The cats just got together! Was Joe Pass playing? No? He’s on Jam #3. That is Freddie Green. I remember the picture. Hit it, Lock! Dang! “Ode To Pres” always. Basie… That’s just magic is always there. Tight. Cats just getting their collective freak on, and just merry music-making at its best. Ten stars.
Blindfold Tests to me are always musical way-stations, if you will, to one’s perceptions of how he perceives other people, and also possibilities he can hear if he superimposed himself in a situation like that. Just like when you watch a game, kind of in the sense of, “Oh, man, if I was there!” Kind of after the fact. It’s kind of like 360, but at the same time it isn’t, because you don’t know who it is. But it’s always great to weigh in and see where my perceptions are and hopefully utilize them. Definitely you can always say that there’s been some great music that’s been played and that continues to be played. That’s what I get out of these, whether I know the individual or not. Like, the Coleman Hawkins and Chu Berry recordings has definitely inspired to take another listen to those particular albums. Because I know I have them from the Classics series, the French issues.