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Jazz Saxophonist Carter Embraces The Gypsy Sound

Of the Oakland Press

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Detroit-born saxophonist James Carter hasn’t really found a style of jazz he doesn’t like — and can’t play.

So it’s no surprise that he’s gravitated toward and developed an acumen for the “gypsy jazz” of famed Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt, which Carter will be playing this weekend during a two-night stand this weekend with the Hot Club of Detroit at Cliff Bell’s in Foxtown.

“I’ve found myself at home with the whole gypsy acoustic clique, chasing that sound,” says Carter, 38, who after studying with Marcus Belgrave in Detroit ventured to New York in the late ’80s, where he made a name for himself as one of jazz’s vaunted Young Lions through his work with Wynton Marsalis and Lester Bowie.

He launched his solo career with 1993’s “JC on the Set.”

The gypsy style, which Reinhardt and cohorts such as violinist Stephane Grappelli developed in Europe during the 1930s, presents a number of challenges for a saxophonist, according to Carter.

“You have to bear in mind that you’re playing with a bunch of sensitive guitars, so it just calls for somewhat of a different touch,” he explains. “You pretty much try and exercise different sensibilities, just the freewheeling aspect of it that’s inherent to the followers of (Reinhardt and Grappelli).

“They really added a lot of flair and identity to that music, even when they were covering popular tunes of the day like

‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and ‘Exactly Like You.’ ”

That, Carter adds, makes the music unlike any other style in the jazz realm.

“It always feels like a musical campfire, minus the s’mores,” he says with a laugh. “It’s always good to be able to tip back there, especially now you’ve got local cats (in Detroit) that are playing the music and have an affinity for the whole Hot Club thing.”

Carter hopes to put out his next album, a “traditional extended quintet thing,” in the spring of 2008. He’s also working on a saxophone concerto by Roberto Sierra but is not sure when that will be ready for release.

James Carter and the Hot Club of Detroit perform at 10 Friday and Saturday (Dec. 21 and 22) at Cliff Bell’s, 2030 Park Ave, Detroit. Admission is $10. Call (313) 961-2543 or visit www.cliffbells.com.

Web Site: www.cliffbells.com

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