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James Carter's "Caribbean Rhapsody" Due from Emarcy Records May 17

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James Carter
The extraordinary decade-long collaboration of jazz virtuoso James Carter and classical composer Roberto Sierra comes to a thrilling culmination with the release on May 17 of their first recording, Caribbean Rhapsody. Sierra's Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra, composed for Carter and premiered in Detroit in 2002, is the centerpiece of the new Emarcy CD; a new Sierra composition, “Caribbean Rhapsody," which features Carter, his musical cousin Regina Carter on violin, and string quintet, is a gorgeous companion piece. Two solo interludes on tenor and soprano saxophones respectively were composed by Carter in response to themes and elements in both of Sierra's works.

“What immediately struck me was that he played with total command and mastery of the instrument," says Sierra, a professor of composition at Cornell University. “James is the Paganini of the saxophone. He and the instrument are one. To me that was amazing, right from the start."

The concerto was recorded in Warsaw with the Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra, conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero (music director of the Nashville Symphony). Carter was joined by violinist Regina Carter along with cellist Akua Dixon's string quintet for the recording of “Caribbean Rhapsody" in New York. Michael Cuscuna produced the new album; Wulf Mueller and Cynthia B. Herbst served as executive producers.

The Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra was commissioned for James Carter by the saxophonist's hometown Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It was premiered by the DSO and its music director, Neeme Jarvi, in October 2002 and reprised by them the following year. “There are no real precedents for the concerto," Sierra says. “To me it was clear I could not look at the past, I had to imagine something and do it."

For Carter, the premiere was just the beginning of an ongoing process exploring the emotional nuances and melodic contours of Sierra's breathtakingly intricate work. “It proves to be a very delicate yet strong balance of written music, improvisation, and the cadenzas," says Carter, 42. “They're strategically placed, especially the one that always challenges me as to which way to go as far as improv is concerned—the end of the third movement segueing into the fourth and the finale. It's like an atonal boogie-woogie. Blues is always a place you have to come home to, so it was a very fitting ending."

For “Caribbean Rhapsody," Sierra draws on memories of his growing up in Puerto Rico and the music he heard on jukeboxes in cafetines—from the sensuous opening bolero to the Latin riffs reminiscent of son montuno. He was “curious to see the combination of James and Regina improvising together and also on two different instruments—the sax, basically from the jazz tradition, and the violin, the quintessential orchestral instrument. And of course I had the ideal players." The CD's producer Michael Cuscuna calls it “contemporary classical music of the highest order."

An artist long intrigued by contrasts and hybrids, Carter resists comfortable categorization. “You have to be totally comfortable wherever," he says. “I think there's tremendous beauty in cross-pollinations of music and influences."

Caribbean Rhapsody is Carter's 13th album and his second for Emarcy Records. Present Tense (2008) which featured trumpeter Dwight Adams, bassist James Genus, drummer Victor Lewis, and pianist D.D. Jackson, was described in a four-star Rolling Stone review as “Presidential Carter: soulfulness and technique in perfect balance."

James Carter's Organ Trio, with special guests Nicholas Payton and James Blood Ulmer, will appear 4/26-5/1 at the Blue Note in New York City.

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