2015 CD release.
A quarter century after his death, John Carter (1929-1991) remains woefully underappreciated. He’s a giant as a modern jazz composer, for his five-album epic Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music, a reimagining of the Africa to America diaspora that’s Ellingtonian in its sweep, and utterly original in its sound. (But only the first and least representative volume, Black Saint’s Dauwhe, is currently available.) The other revolutionary Carter, the one who concerns us today, is the clarinetist who rethought the instrument’s capabilities, and extended its upward range almost an octave.
Carter’s body of work can be roughly divided into two unequal periods. The first starts in 1969, when he began recording, mostly on alto or tenor saxophone, in partnership with cornetist Bobby Bradford, in the quartet/quintet sometimes called the New Art Jazz Ensemble. The second period takes in his mature works, including the 1982-‘89 Roots and Folklore series, its unofficial preamble A Suite of Early American Folk Pieces for Solo Clarinet (Moers), and the quintet albums Variations (Moers) and Night Fire (Black Saint). There is overlap between these periods, not least because Bradford was involved in everything just mentioned save the solo album, as well as an occasional duo and quintet. But the rare and newly reissued Echoes from Rudolph’s, the lone release on Carter’s Ibedon label, recorded mostly in 1976, finds him on the cusp of his mature style. It documents the moment when his clarinet conception bloomed, and other reeds (and flute) became superfluous. In the years to come, that roughhewn clarinet sound would help him find his increasingly idiosyncratic voice as composer.
Not that he was new to clarinet in 1976. He’d played it (and flute) with Bradford sometimes. From the earliest versions of Carter’s signature ditty “Sticks and Stones” in 1969, many of the elements of his mature blackstick style were already in place: the dry-wood timbre, the teetering sprints across the high and low registers and the register break, the restless hot-foot motion. He had started to feature it more by the 1971 concert that surfaced in Mosaic Select’s 2010 Carter-Bradford box. But the extreme high notes weren’t there yet.
Carter’s two-and-a-half-year weekly residency at the South Los Angeles gallery Rudolph’s Fine Arts Center seems to have been the watershed. With Bradford off in London for most of 1973, Carter formed a trio of his own, with drummer William Jeffrey, who later played on various Carter and Bradford records, and John’s son Stanley Carter on bass. Until 2015, Stanley’s only other available recording was an obscure LP by ethnomusicologist Steve Loza and the Cal Poly Jazz Band. But then came the Bradford-Carter 1975 live NoUTurn (Dark Tree) with Roberto Miranda also on bass. The new Echoes from Rudolph’s includes the original LP (mastered from a clean test pressing – there are a few little pops), supplemented on disc two with a 1977 broadcast by the same trio.
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