It’s interesting that the opening tune on this Detroit homecoming for saxophonist James Carter, Oscar Pettiford’s "Tricotism," would feature a second line drumming configuration, though it isn’t surprising. Carter is a man devoid of cliché and quick to embrace new means of expression. With Johnny Griffin (tenor), David Murray (tenor), Franz Jackson (tenor), Larry Smith (alto), Dwight Adams (trumpet), Kenn Cox (piano), Gerard Gibbs (organ), Ralphe Armstrong (bass), Leonard King (drums) and Richard ‘Pistol’ Allen (drums) accompanying, Detroiter Carter (soprano, tenor and baritone) is given a hero’s welcome and gives the hometown crowd a performance to remember. The screaming soprano that greets those in attendance is electrifying and as exciting as any this side of Rahsaan Roland Kirk in his prime. This is a man who comes to conquer.
The front line saxophones that frame Gibb’s roof shaking organ solo on "Soul Street" are steeped in the tradition, even though Gibbs is a hard man to catch in the musical chase. Murray and Carter trade licks on a very funky "Freedom Jazz Dance" and Franz Jackson joins his tenor and rowdy vocals to Carter’s soprano in a fine take on "I Can’t Get Started."
Don Byas’ "Free and Easy" is enhanced by a sweet toned Adams on trumpet and veteran Detroiter Kenn Cox on piano, with Carter on an adventurous tenor that soars into the upper register. Adams, Cox and Jackson take solo turns on "Low Flame," a tune that features Larry Smith’s alto and Carter’s baritone in a fat-toned ballad that impresses.
"Sack Full of Dreams" is given an organ intro that reminds of Detroit legend Lymon Woodard. Indeed the tune is infused with Detroit grit and takes this listener back to Cobb’s Corner, an inner city jazz club that ruled the roost in the 1970s. Smith’s alto work here is simply gorgeous and young Mr. Carter’s baritone turn is equally impressive.
The closing take on "Foot Pattin’" assembles the horn players for a major blow out. Murray’s opening solo bounces from upper to lower register with a few squeaks thrown in for this bar-walking chest thumpin’ solo. Franz Jackson answers with a growling low response that gets the audience's attention. Johnny Griffin joins the battle with a passion and takes it up a notch before JC bounces onto the set and blows a storm of his own and is joined by the other three tenors in one of the baddest blows to be captured on disc in a long while.
Given the history of Baker’s as arguably the oldest jazz club in the country, it’s a treat to see a live album cut here. This is the album that the venerable club deserves.