Carl Bartlett, Jr. Quartet/Quintet – Hopeful, self, 2011, 57:55 ****:
(Carl Batlett, Jr, alto saxophone; Sharp Radway, piano; Eric Lemon, bass; Emanuel Harrold, drums; Charles Bartlett, trumpet (track 7); Ron Jackson, guitar (track 4)).
This is the debut CD by the then 28-year-old Mr. Bartlett. He sees himself in the straight-ahead, progressive camp. That’s a very apt description for this disc of six originals and two very fine interpretations of standards. Evident throughout are the contributions and impact of growing up in a musical family (his uncle and father have led a long running show and dance band with the young Bartlett both observing their professionalism and occasionally seeing the audience from the stage when asked to join in). He earned a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music, teaches, and is partway through a postgraduate music program. The sessions for “Hopeful” were held in the summer of 2010 before being released, meeting the usual high sonic standards offered by the jazz idiom.
Interestingly, things start off with a 4:57 unaccompanied alto sax solo. Almost like a warmup for an audition. Bartlett demonstrates his command, ideas and love for the alto through telling his story as just a musician and a horn. A ballsy but very admirable statement which nicely sets the stage for the introduction of the ensemble.
Bartlett wrote “Fidgety Season” as a tribute to his middle school students. It’s his interpretation of the June month when the kids get jittery with the anticipation of summer. It starts in 5/4 time before setting a jazz waltz feel prior to fidgeting back to 5/4 for Emanuel Harrod’s drum solo before slowing back for the ending.
Track three is a ballad dedicated to Barlett’s mother. The exquisite and moving alto and group performance is highlighted by a sensitive solo by bassist Lemon. “Quantum Leaps(And Bounds)” is my favorite. This is a fast hard charging workout adding the explorational guitar of Ron Jackson to the quartet. The unison playing of alto and guitar is fantastic and creative. But a real treat is the two men’s solos and trades recalling the legendary duels of Sonny Stitt/Gene Ammons and others. This might be a good time to identify Bartlett’s declared influences. He was spurred toward jazz in his early teens by hearing his father’s record of the Brecker Brothers “New York City”. He also cites Stitt, Charlie Parker and Joshua Redman. I even hear some Dolphyisms now and then. Very imaginative writing and superlative playing abounds everywhere on this monster track which reveals cunning compositional skills.
“Seven Up” exemplifies what Bartlett means by progressive mainstream and is the last of his six original compositions. It’s a blues number, but in 7/4. It presents a fine piano solo, the usual well-toned Bartlett solo, and a nice drum spot by Harrold to supplement his tasteful support evident throughout the album. This track also provides a super example of how well this disc was recorded for an independent project.
“Release” is Carl’s bossa nova. It’s pleasantly pleasing, revealing the quartet as an optimally running engine with all brilliantly contributing to the whole. “It Could Happen To You” introduces on trumpet and celebrates the impact Bartlett’s uncle, Charles Bartlett, had on his life. We get lengthy trumpet and sax solos, followed by a bass solo with gentle comping by pianist Radway. Towards the end there’s some initial gentle trading by the Bartletts before things pick up furiously until the sound becomes monstrously busy – another example of envelope pushing.
The beloved “I Love Lucy” is the final tune. The theme is stated, then the tempo is briefly picked up before being slowed down for the piano solo. It then speeds up for interesting sax/drums trades including just clever snippets of the melody. A thoughtfully-arranged ending closes out the disc.
Going back to the analogy of this debut being like an audition. If so, Carl Bartlett, Jr totally aced it. This album is the type of introduction that really doesn’t happen that often. When it does, it makes jazz lovers realize we are in good hands. Bartlett is talented enough to receive the type of label support given to someone like James Carter for his initial release. Even without it, the composing, arrangements, playing and production values are top-drawer. Congrats, guys!
TrackList: Hopeful; Fidgety-Season; Julie B.; Quantum Leaps(And Bounds); Release; Seven Up; It Could Happen To You; I Love Lucy.
—Birney K. Brown
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