Jan P. Dennis November 2001

      Marionettes on a High Wire Baikida Carroll A Multifaceted Gem, The title's kinda weird. Think about it. What does it mean? Puppets on a tightrope? What are they doing up there? Dancing? That's how I think of it. And, strangely, it's perfectly suited to the marvelous music on this disc, which dances through my head, all jingly-jangly, whenever I put it on, and often when I don't.

      The group, which is Carroll's working band, seems nearly telepathic. The ensemble playing throughout electrifies. Carroll plays the trumpet like no one I know of. He's got chops to burn, which are fabulously on display whenever he solos, but what really strikes me as unique is his tone, which is dark and buttery-slippery, yet somehow perfectly articulated. He gets more warmth from his horn than any trumpeter I've ever heard, yet he's incredible nimble and has perfect timing and pitch. Adegoke Steve Colson on piano is masterful, comping with thick chords, sometimes launching into controlled frenzy on his solos, other times playing complex yet compelling single line phrases. Those bass bombs bursting from the speakers come courtesy of the formidable Michael Formanek. Veteran drummer Pheeroan akLaff, who can be overly busy, plays better than I've ever heard him. Erica Lindsay on tenor sax has greatly matured since I last encountered her.

      The music is all over the map, which is a good thing, in my view. There's a stunningly beautiful ballad (Miss Julie), deconstructed carnival music (the title cut), an engaging waltz (Our Say), a Latin-tinged post-bop number that bubbles along cheerfully (Ebullient Secrets), an out-and-out burner (A Thrill a Minute) that showcases the band's incredible musicianship with Carroll's solo alone worth the price of admission, but everyone really struts their stuff. I don't even generally like this kind of virtuoso number, but there's a lot more going on here than mere speed. Flamboye, a tribute to the late, great Julius Hemphill, is flamboyant, all right, a very extroverted modernist piece with a killer drum solo from Pheeroan. Down Under sounds like it's going five directions at once, all the while making perfect sense.

      This kind of modern eclectic jazz--hip, worldly wise, yet with an underlying warmth and accessibility--is what many artists strive for but few achieve.

      In sum, this is one marvelous disc, certainly one of the absolute best of 2001. full review home page Back