An effusive, dynamically gifted jazz saxophonist, James Carter caused a critical uproar when he appeared on the New York jazz scene from his native Detroit in the early '90s. Carter's debut recording, JC on the Set, issued in Japan when he was only 23 and in the States a year later in 1993, was universally acclaimed as the finest debut by a saxophonist in decades. Critics lauded his ability to play in virtually any jazz style without appearing to ape anyone. He has continued to build upon these early accolades, exploring the music of Django Reinhardt on 2000's Chasin' the Gypsy, displaying his classical skills on 2011's Caribbean Rhapsody, and working with his soulful organ trio on 2019's Live from Newport Jazz.
Born in 1969 in Detroit, Carter began playing at age 11 and studied early on with trumpeter Marcus Belgrave. A prodigy, he progressed quickly and by 1986 at age 17 joined Wynton Marsalis on tour. Two years later, he became a member of Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy upon relocating to New York. Carter issued no less than six recordings under his own name between 1993 and 2000, all of them with different focuses, from a set of standards, Conversin' with the Elders in 1995, to an electric funk record, Layin' in the Cut, to a simultaneously released set in tribute to Django Reinhardt, Chasin the Gypsy. Three years later, he honored the legendary Billie Holiday with Gardenias for Lady Day.
Moving from Columbia to Warner Bros., Carter's Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge followed in spring 2004. Another live session, Out of Nowhere, was released in 2005 on the independent label Half Note. There were also sessions and live dates with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Cyrus Chestnut, Rodney Whitaker, Frank Lowe, the late Julius Hemphill, pop-jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Tough Young Tenors, and the Charles Mingus Big Band. In 2008, he released Present Tense on Universal Jazz. Carter followed that up a year later with the live album Heaven on Earth, featuring a jazz supergroup including, among others, organist John Medeski and bassist Christian McBride.
In 2011, Carter delivered Caribbean Rhapsody, his collaboration with classical composer Roberto Sierra featuring the piece "Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra." He also reunited with his Organ Trio (with fellow Detroiters organist Gerard Gibbs and drummer Leonard King, Jr.) for a third album entitled At the Crossroads, which was released by Emarcy and produced by Michael Cuscuna. A concert album, Live from Newport Jazz, recorded with his organ trio at the long-running festival, arrived in 2019. ~ Thom Jurek