Dave Carter wrote the dozen tunes on this album. Most are outstanding, and the arrangements match the material. For my 2008 best-of-year jazz mix, it was difficult to decide which of Carter's tracks to include alongside of others by people like Roy Hargrove, the SF Jazz Collective, Clark Terry and Joe Lovano. Because my theme was on the mellow side for this edition, I finally chose "Pusa Lulu." Its sensual, exotic stew hints of the Middle East or North Africa. The stage is set by John Rangel's shimmering electronic keyboard, not usually my favorite instrument. It always reminds me of fake angels hanging by visible steel wires amidst cotton clouds. But hey, that's just me, and it works here.
Second choice was "Short Street," the first cut on the album. It has a similar funky, Nile-River vibe and a couple of ecstatic highlights with Carter multi-tracking to combine open and muted trumpets for a fuller sound than that of the basic quartet.
"Lullaby for Hattie Bliss" is a gospel-driven waltz, one of a couple on the release. Rangel's swinging, two-handed, blues-drenched piano takes up the best of the solo space. Barrett Martin propels the waltz with brushes on snare and cymbal while Luis Guerra's bass reinforces the funk. Carter's trumpet is mostly open, but with growled muted accents.
The arrangements and the versatility of the musicians often expand the sound of the group beyond what you'd normally expect from a quartet. Carter several times multi-tracks his trumpet or the percussion; Rangel plays both electronic and standard keyboards; and Martin adds vibes and a bag of other percussion instruments to the mix.
The rhythms too are varied. "Half Day" is in an unusual meter and Martin shows his African side on "5 AM" in a duet with Carter's trumpet. "7 AM," a second trumpet-percussion duet, closes the album.
Dave Carter started in Seattle and now often performs in San Francisco. He's been a sideman with several well-known players, but this is his first album as a leader. I'll be watching for the next one. Definitely recommended.