on a High Wire (Omnitone)
Ken Waxman 2001
of the key members of St. Louis's cooperative Black Artists
Group (BAG) in the late 1960s along with the likes of Lester
Bowie, Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill, trumpeter Baikida
Carroll has followed a unique career locus since he settled
in New York.
the years, he has spent as much time composing for regional
theatre projects, film, television and dance performances
as he has playing. His performing was further curtailed by
a bout with Bell's Palsy in the late 1980s, which left half
of his embouchure permanently paralyzed. It took him three
years to overcome the results of being stricken.
enough, though, this fine CD shows that despite setbacks,
Carroll has lost neither his chops nor his inventiveness.
A strong freebop quintet session, it could be seen as extending
the modal conception Miles Davis abandoned when he turned
to electronic fusion in the early 1970s.
Although Carroll wrote all the material, he's helped immeasurably
by the efforts of the other musicians, who perform at the
same high level as Miles' Wayne-Herbie-Ron-Tony quintet. Pianist
Adegoke Steve Colson is a longtime member of BAG's Chicago
counterpart, the Association for the Advancement of Creative
Musicians (AACM); tenor saxophonist Lindsay has worked with
leaders as different as McCoy Tyner and Dizzy Gillespie; Michael
Formanek is best known for his work in Tim Berne's bands;
and Pheeroan akLaff has put in his time with Anthony Braxton
You can probably hear the MilesFive link most closely on "Miss
Julie," which was originally written by the trumpeter for
actress Kim Cattrall's interpretation of the title role in
the August Strindberg play of then same name. Filled with
fragile muted trumpet wisps, featherlight piano shadings and
barely there bass and drums backing, it's one of those ballad
performance that seems as if it should fade off into the mist,
but slowly reveals the powerful skeleton underneath.
"Velma" named for Carroll's revered grandmother, also sounds
as if it could have migrated from a 1960s Blue Note session.
Conveyed by churning, modal piano chords, and tender trumpet
lines, it's a soulful lullaby that also allows Lindsay to
unleash one of her best solos of the date: it's chocolate
smooth tone masking the bittersweet, hard candy center. The
trumpeter's earlier associates like alto saxophonist Hemphill
and cornetist Don Cherry are memorialized as well with "Flamboye"
and "Griot's Last Dance" respectively. Hemphill, who actually
recruited Carroll for BAG after hearing him practicing late
one night on a deserted golf course is celebrated with a flamboyant,
abstract tune that tries to reflect both the altoist's probing
personality and his colorful stage suits. Built around tension
and release, "Flamboye" offers some of the group's most abstract
playing, centered on a balanced, freeish dialogue between
tenor saxophone and trumpet.
inside/outside duality extends to Formanek's string strumming
fading into a an urbop, double time excursion from Colson
on the title track, which is then surmounted by brass exploration,
courtesy of its composer. Coexistence between the instruments
here and elsewhere relates to Carroll's contention that the
life of an artist is a delicate balancing act between satisfaction
there's "Cab," another theater-created piece. An under two
minute recapitulation of early jazz, with Bubber Miley style
growl trumpet, pre-modern Chu Berry-like saxophone and a James
P. Johnson influenced stride piano part, it culminates in
a joyous, rickety-tick ending.
Perhaps that's something else Carroll picked up from his theatrical
experience: always send the customer home happy, humming a
tune. If the neo-cons hadn't started to force it backwards
20 years ago, this CD demonstrates where thoughtful mainstream
jazz was headed at that time, and what most contemporary mainstream
jazz should sound like right now.