Chasin' the Gypsy
Layin' in the Cut
produced by Yves Beauvais
released June 7, 2000
Few artists can release a quality double album. Fewer can release two distinct albums at once. Even fewer artists can release two excellent and extremely different albums at once. With the simultaneous release of his electric funk album Layin' in the Cut and the acoustic tribute to Django Reinhardt Chasin' the Gypsy, James Carter places himself in that elite group. On these two very different albums, Carter demonstrates why he is one of the (if not the single) best sax players on the scene today. The two albums demonstrate Carter's wide range of capabilities and influences. Even though they sound completely different from each other, JC's voice remains consistent, whether it's playing a beautiful melody on the bass sax in "Nuages (Clouds)" on Chasing the Gypsy or playing a funky cadenza on the tenor on the title track to Layin' in the Cut, whic is reminiscent of the introduction to the title track of his debut album JC on the Set. He demonstrates his respect for the masters and the saxophone-- by playing his standard tenor, soprano and baritone saxes, but also incorporating the much less widely used bass and f mezzo soprano saxophones.
I came into these two discs expecting more from Layin' in the Cut than Chasin' the Gypsy, because I've been very impressed with JC's funky playing throughout the years (the title tracks to 1994's JC on the Set and 1998's In Carterian Fashion are two excellent examples.) I also know very little about Django Reinhardt's music, so I didn't know what to expect on Gypsy. Probably because of my expectations, I am far more impressed with Chasin' the Gypsy than Layin' in the Cut. This is not to say that the funky album is bad, but that Chasin' the Gypsy is excellent.
Chasin' the Gypsy impressed me even before I heard the first note. The inside front cover features a photo of Carter playing the bass sax. The bass sax is one of the coolest instruments that is rarely played (because it is not the easiest instrument to play.) On the opening track, "Nuages (Clouds)," JC plays the bass sax so smoothly that it is scary. This album opens with a bass/snare drum pattern (along with castanets) creating in a very central european/ viennese mode-- a waltz feeling, but in 4/4 time. Accordion (played by Charlie Giordano) accentuates the central European vibe. In fact, all the instrumentation contributes to its central european and gypsy influences and tendencies. Besides Carter and Giordano, this ensemble features Regina Carter on the violin, Steve Kirby on bass, Cyro Baptista on percussion, Joey Baron on drums and two guitarists: Jay Berliner on steel string and Romero Lubambo on nylon string. On this first track, Carter's laid back style on the bass sax is impressive in that it is so laid back. Lubambo's solo on Nuages has a great feel to it.
The title track, Carter's original "Chasin' the Gypsy" stands out because of its frenetic main theme. JC's soprano sax work is all over the map in a good way. What's amazing is how he can still get the same grittiness out of the soprano sax that he does out of the tenor and bari. The rhythm section of Kirby, Baptista and Baron keeps the frenetic pace going throughout the song and the mood of the piece is that of a frantic chase. The piece (and album) truly does evoke the mood of chasin' the gypsy-- both in a literal sense with this song, and in a more general sense of the album in chasing Django Reinhardt's style and legacy into the modern day. On Gypsy, JC has put together an excellent album that is among his strongest work to date, and dramatically different from his earlier recordings. He is immensely successful in demonstrating his versatility as a player, composer, and leader, as well as his deep respect for his predecessors.
Because they were released simultaneously, these two albums will be compared with each other first. Unfortunately, that is not a fair comparison for Layin' in the Cut, because Chasin' the Gypsy is the superior album of the two. Of course, that is not to say that Layin' in the Cut is bad, but it simply does not match the depth of Chasin' the Gypsy.
Layin' in the Cut is a much more straightforward album. The title track is remarkably mediocre, until the closing cadenza, in which JC pulls out his full bag of tricks, including the percussivve slap-tounging and multiphonics that he does so well. This cadenza leads into "Motown Mash" which is a great, funky tune, which is straightforward enough to be groovy, but with enough unexpected elements to make it very interesting.
"Requiem for Hartford Ave." and "Drufadelic in Db" are the other two high points of this disc. "Requiem" is a slow song, driven by its bass line, with JC's soprano floating slowly and intensenly above it. "Drufadelic in Db" opens with a long tenor sax cadenza, in which JC deonstrates just why is he is the single best sax player on the scene today.
These two albums are so different from each other, which serves to demonstrate the range of Carter's talents. It's difficult to listen to them in one sitting and remember that it's the same artist-- of course JC's rich, full tone is the constant through both. JC is the Tiger Woods of the saxophone. He can outplay anyone else, can do things that no other cat can, and he does it with style. As a pair and on their own, Chasin' the Gypsy and Layin' in the Cut are both excellent, with chasin the gypsy being slightly better.