Saxophonist James Carter has established himself as a player of impressive facility, drawing on the post-Trane-Ayler vocabulary of squeals and frenzied tonalities, and integrating it into a hard-swinging, postmodern style that's alternately edgy and smooth as it threads together various strains from jazz's past a typical Carter move is the way he blurs, on this new disc's "Down to the River," the line between gut-bucket primitivism and avant-garde sophistication, linking the two approaches' common theme of expressive exultation. His approach may not have quite the same punch that it did a few years ago he's too much a known quantity now but he remains, it seems, constitutionally incapable of playing a dull solo.
The new twist on Carterian is the presence of the Hammond organ, played alternately by Henry Butler, who favors a funky approach, Craig Taborn, who reaches for "outside" effects, and Cyrus Chestnut, who likes it lyrical. As we've come to expect from Carter, the program is varied and well-paced, ranging from the muscular ballad "Lockjaw's Lament" to the frenzied whoosh of the appropriately titled "Skull Grabbin'." A ferociously fecund player, Carter dominates the session it takes a few listens to appreciate the contributions of Dwight Adams' spidery, muted trumpet and Kevin Carter's quietly raunchy guitar and at times it seems as though he's percolating with more ideas than he can get out. But he does and that's why, moment by moment, he's one of the most exciting players on the scene.