Saxophonist Carl Bartlett Jr. Delivers Sizzling Postbop with a Killer Band
What’s most immediately striking about Carl Bartlett Jr.‘s album Hopeful is the New York alto saxophonist’s fearsome chops. Quivering but stiletto-precise doublestops, bone-rattling trills and spirals from moody lows to stratospheric highs punctuate the solo piece that Bartlett opens the album with – ostentatious as it may be to show off like that, right off the bat, Bartlett pulls it off. The rest of the album features a brilliant band comprising pianist Sharp Radway, bassist Eric Lemon and drummer Emanuel Harrold, all players on the New York scene who deserves to be far better known. Bartlett’s tunesmithing falls into a solidly traditionalist postbop style, with expansive but tasteful solos and all kinds of electrifying interplay. This is one of those albums that manages to capture the band showing off the vigor and chemistry of a live set rather than a studio rush job. Bartlett and his quartet are at the Kitano on January 2 at 8 and 10 PM; cover is $15 plus a $15 minimum.
The first of the quartet numbers here, Fidgety Season, is a forcefully enigmatic jazz waltz, Bartlett and Radway trading up/down trajectories, the pianist’s artfully subtle permutations over Harrold’s suspenseful rumble giving way to a purposeful attack from the bandleader. The ballad Julie B benefits from a murkily resonant solo piano intro, Bartlett’s slowly unwinding lines handing off to a similarly soulful solo by Lemon; then Radway illuminates Bartlett’s balminess underneath.
Quantum Leaps (and Bounds), with guest Ron Jackson on guitar, takes a Steey Dan-ish theme for a brisk walk with a series of animated tradeoffs with the drums on the way out. Release is a bossa tune, Bartlett holding back resolutely from the resolution implied by the title until midway through, Radway latching onto the song’s inner bluesiness as it winds out with some clever rhythmic jousting. Seven Up works similar blues allusions over a syncopated swing – it’s Adderley Brothers gutbucket spun through funhouse mirror hardbop sophistication.
It Could Happen to You has Charles Bartlett guesting on trumpet and exchanging a series of energetically exploratory and eventually explosive, microtonally-charged solos with the sax over Harrold’s cool, cymbal-driven implied clave. They end the album with a lovingly lickety-split, strikingly straightforward take of the I Love Lucy theme, resisting the urge to indulge in buffoonery.