James Carter can play just about anything he wants on a saxophone. Brilliantly virtuosic, he is a master of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, someone who can capture the natural timbre and character of each.
So it was hard to understand why -- in his performance Tuesday at the Jazz Bakery -- Carter remained within such a narrow range of expression. Playing virtually every solo with frantic overstatement, he was a musical tornado, whipping across the keys of his horns, honking out multiphonic sounds, aggressively accenting his phrasing.
Carter's performances always raise the question of whether he will allow any airy open spaces in his music. And in this one he did not, choosing instead to fill every beat with as much sound as possible, every phrase with a larger-than-life connotation.
Nor was the music particularly enhanced by the fact that his quintet -- which included the fine veteran pianist John Hicks, trumpeter Dwight Adams, bassist Ralphe Armstrong and drummer Leonard King -- was clearly not well rehearsed, nor by Hicks' persistent troubles locating the appropriate piece of music manuscript. And it didn't help, particularly in the opening numbers, that Armstrong's bass was annoyingly over-amplified and King kept his drumming (like Carter's playing) at a level of high, sometimes overbearing intensity.
A few brief moments -- notably Hicks' sensitive soloing in "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" -- suggested the music that might have been. But that's as far as it went during an evening that was more often dominated by fast fingers, turbulent sounds and noisy rhythms.
James Carter Quintet
Where: The Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., L.A.
When: Today-Sunday, 8 and 9:30 p.m.
Price: $25 today and Sunday; $30 Friday and Saturday
Info: (310) 271-9039