Jazz virtuoso James Carter went from one instrument to another Tuesday as casually as you or I might choose socks from a drawer. He did things to the flute I’ve never heard before: talking into it, popping and humming, making it wail.
He held his audience rapt for nearly two hours of high-energy music Tuesday at the Dakota, the first of a two-night gig. His instruments — soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute, baritone clarinet — were arrayed on a table beside him and he played them all.
Starting on the soprano, Carter announced Spanky Wilson’s “Going Home,” explained that it was “not to be confused with Dvorak by any means,” and blasted off. Someone else might take all night to work up to the ferocity and heat of that first tune.
The other members of Carter’s quintet — Gerard Gibbs on piano, Ralphe Armstrong on bass, Leonard King on drums, and 29-year-old trumpeter and flugelhorn player Corey Wilkes — upped the excitement with their own strong performances and occasional antics (at one point Gibbs played the piano with his right foot; Wilkes blew both of his instruments at once, looking as if he had brass tusks). It was serious musical business and it was a party, with lots of back-and-forth banter and body English.
I was hoping Carter’s teacher, Donald Washington, would join him on stage and he did, along with Washington’s son Kevin. The seven musicians (Donald on baritone sax, Kevin sharing King’s drum set) launched into a 30-minute improvisation — a joyous, virtuosic shower of sparks. Carter and Donald (“my musical Pops”) were two lions roaring at each other.
Carter wrapped things up with the lively “Rapid Shave,” the first track on his new CD, “Present Tense,” then let us know he’s got “another day’s lease on the place.”
He will be back tonight. This one is a no-brainer.