On Changing Tide, guitarist / composer Kenny Carr’s third release, he does indeed change tides. His years as sideman for Ray Charles allow him to dip into deep R&B waters, while his long (since his teens!) friendship with Downbeat’s 2008 Critics Poll Rising Star tenor sax winner Donny McCaslin takes him into the fast-running rivers of straight-ahead modern jazz. Adding this to the cool streams of radio-friendly smooth jazz, Carr explores most of the more-listenable-but-challenging tides that improvisational music has to offer.
Carr prefers a drier, Grant Greenish tone to his ax, and on the first cut, "Chase," he gets a chance to flash it on stunning stop-time solo breaks. McCaslin steps in with an all too short solo, but is followed by stop-time breaks from drummer Frank Russo that excite and delight.
Bassist Tom Baldwin is featured on the next cut, "Tempo Tantrum" (cute), with a formidable take similar to Eddie Gomez’ style. His playing throughout this album should alert the jazz community to and other "rising star." Same kudos for Russo.
Next up, R&B is served on Carr’s dedication to his former boss, Ray Charles. An extremely danceable beat laid down by the rhythm section is topped off by an unconfined post-bop melody. Baldwin again shows his chops, followed by Carr, sounding a little more like Wes, as guitarists invariably do when they use octaves. McCaslin is allowed only a quick break and some commentary over the out-chorus.
For the most part, the rest of Changing Tide slides down the slippery slope of smooth jazz, starting with the mellow "Bossa Luna." Surely, the next cut, "East Side Groove," puts me in mind of John Scofield’s funky jazz. But outside of that and McCaslin’s next appearance, another modern jazz gem, "Downstairs," Carr settles comfortably into a Metheny-esque mellow tune, "Soaring," and other cuts where he trots out an Earl Klugh sounding acoustic on "Bay to Breakers" and the CD’s final cut "Costa del Sol."
Carr has skill to spare and, in this case at least, a band that can play anything. Next time around, maybe he’ll lean a little heavier on the challenging stuff. As it is, Changing Tide will do quite nicely. Maybe too nicely.
Addendum - Two Weeks Later: In reviewing this review, the critic wonders if it is fair to denigrate the artist for playing music that doesn’t exactly turn the critic on. Or rather, should the critic only concern himself with how well the artist did what he set out to do? In this case, Carr plays wonderfully no matter what the form. Mellow fusion to modern jazz, Carr and his band play honestly and most forthrightly. Maybe that’s all that matters. Until this critic is sure, he prefers to err on the side of the artist.