DAUWHEThe John Carter Octet
ODE TO THE FLOWER MAIDEN
Black Saint : 1982
JC, clarinet; Bobby Bradford, cornet; Red Callender, tuba; James Newton, flute;Â Charles Owens, reeds (soprano sax, clarinet,Â oboe); Roberto Miguel Miranda, bass; William Jeffrey, drums; Luis Peralta, percussion.
Of all the musicians discussed in the context of the 73/90 Jazz Reclamation Project, perhaps none was more deserving of resurrection than altoist and clarinettist John Carter. Certainly, few wereÂ provided withÂ more convincing and eloquent supportÂ than was Carter, at Steve Smith’s site.Â The album Dauwhe was the first of a five-album series from Carter, the overall title for which is the somewhat onerous Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music. Wrote Smith, “For the boldness of its ambition, the breadth of its accomplishment, the unity of its vision and the unbridled strength of each individual musician’s contribution, ‘Roots and Folklore’ demands to be recognized as one of the greatest achievements in the history of not just jazz, but American music, period.”
Carter has another booster in Gary Giddins, whose essay on Carter, called “American Echoes,” appears in his canonical Visions of Jazz collection. It offers a wonderful review of Carter’s career,Â a bit on Carter’s running buddies (particularly Bradford,Â Don Cherry to his Ornette Coleman), and a whole lot onÂ the number four entry in the series, Fields.Â Giddins, like Smith, indirectly points to one possible reason why Carter’s profile is so lamentably low: “It is as patently silly to label Carter a jazz musician as it is to call every American of color black…. He came out of jazz, but his vision was neither limited nor compromised by it.” In Reagan-era America, during a period of conservative retrenchment in jazz, such eclecticism was the kiss of death, and a guaranteed ticket to Oblivion.
So anyway, the music. With this octet we get a mix of African folk melodiesÂ and jazz improv, modern counterpoint and avant textures. Despite Carter’s Fort Worth roots, there are elements of the AACM sound here in the attention to group dynamics and the shifting sonic palette, though with more rhythmic dynamism and drive than is often encountered in larger AACM groups (thinking particularly of the Muhal Abrams big band).
“Dauwhe” begins with a series of indeterminate sounds – wheezes andÂ an echoing drone. The band begins to emerge from these sounds,Â as a castle slowly appears from the thick mists in any given samurai film.Â At first the castle seems insignificant, but it’s only as you get closer that you realize how formidable the structure really is.Â
The band unfurls aÂ stately fanfare. We’ve entered the castle courtyard and are being welcomed – or warned; it’s hard to say. The interactions are growing more complex. There are strong hints of palace intrigue, swirling rumors, plots and counterplots, but just when we think we’veÂ figured out the story. something shifts, another element is added, the main theme subtracted. It’s alluring. You wantÂ to find out more.Â Appropriately for the first song on the album, there is no end, no solid conclusion,Â just an invitation to explore deeper.
“Flower Maiden”Â is aÂ lovely ballad; an ode to the women whose dark eyes peek out along the grassy savannah, who kneel in the shadows beside jungle streams, whose delicate footprints line the paths of the deep recesses of the forest. The band coos behind the sighs and swoops of the clarinet. At first this sounds like a pleasant fantasty, a lovely but benign daydream. But there’s something lurking beneath the conjured images of perfurmed gardens and verdant meadows. A troubling twitter of unease that’s woven into the texture of the tune. Maybe it’s the remoteness of these flower maidens – the distance in time between them and the composer who is conjuring their image? Or maybe these women insist on keeping their mysteries to themselves. You can never really know them, only glimpse their outlines from afar.
Giddins again, on Carter: “Jazz fans are luckier than we realize.” If ever a motto could be applied to the 73/90 confab, that is it. If you like what you’ve heard here, you might get lucky yourself, over at the OmniTone store.
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Only one post this week. Back to regular strength on Monday.