James Carter: Present Tense

James Carter’s first outing for EmArcy is an unselfconscious mix of influences, more three-dimensional than his various tribute discs and the recent organ-trio blowouts Live at Baker’s and Out of Nowhere.

The saxophonist fronts a versatile, hard-swinging band with Dwight Adams on trumpet, D.D. Jackson on piano, James Genus on bass and Victor Lewis on drums. Percussionist Eli Fountain and guitarist Rodney Jones add flavor on three tracks each. Carter, as always, plays multiple horns, but his improvising gains force at the high- and low-register extremes, on flute, baritone sax and bass clarinet.

Jackson asserts his Don Pullen influence from the gate on Dave Burns’ “Rapid Shave,” which opens the album in crisp 24-bar modified blues mode. Carter’s “Bro. Dolphy,” with its spiraling bass clarinet line, seems to maintain the same pace but just as soon morphs into an elegant ballad, until the out chorus. “Shadowy Sands,” another bass clarinet standout, has Carter channeling Harry Carney (the tune’s original interpreter) while the band shifts from sultry bolero to deep swing. There are nods to Clifford Brown as well: a funky “Song of Delilah” and an extremely fast “Hymn of the Orient,” which has its excitement but tends to blur the curious harmony of the bridge.

Jones plays taut bebop on “Dodo’s Bounce” (Carter’s flute feature) and enticing acoustic guitar on two Latin-tinged numbers. One of these, the rowdy “Bossa J.C.,” would seem the perfect sendoff, but Carter ends instead with an eight-minute “Tenderly.” Nicely played, but anticlimactic.