Joseph Carter III -
Straight Ahead Backwards
Before the development of Straight Ahead Backwards, Joseph Carter was looking forward to touring with Bill Doggett, Benny Waters and Walter Perkins as the New York Jazz & Soul Project. Due to the loss of Bill Doggett, not only a legendary musician but someone who had become a dear friend, Joseph decided not to release the album they had just recorded and to cancel any ideas of touring. Musically, Joseph was being pushed by Tal Farlow and Jim Hall, as well as by the man who made his guitar, Jimmy D'Aquisto, to establish his own style. It was then that Joseph began to conceive of Straight Ahead Backwards, a CD of all original music.
"I wanted the record to showcase my compositional side and to write music around and featuring my band members, Walter Perkins and Stuart Waters. The object was to use the different styles that I can play and to be centered around the compositions. I didn't want it to be endless solos, not to be a sort of ego trip showing how fast I can play to impress people. I wanted to play and let the music come from our hearts. I was also studying 20th century composition with one of the greatest composers, Raoul Pleskow. It was at this time that I conceived of something which I feel is totally new, that is, playing a tonal/non-tonal piece of music which features a jazz quintet. I was coming from the perspective of music being a dialogue or conversation between the instruments. The title track would highlight these ideas."
Straight Ahead Backwards opens with "Waiting On You" moving at an assured and driving pace which is forceful, yet replete with an elegance and grace which is vibrant and crisp. The song has a vitality and freshness to it. Carter's solos, all within the framework of the song, never flashy or overplayed, exhibit a high intelligence and are bluesy, melodic and focused. The interplay between the guitar and keyboard, which weave in and out of each other with the adeptness of Chinese acrobats, is a strong and dominant aspect of this song as well as many other compositions on this record. This is indictative of an emerging compositional style which Joseph Carter will continue to be noted for throughout a long and illustrious career.
"Peaches" is a tribute to Jimmy Raney, whom Joseph was to study with just prior to his death. This tune is based off the Jimmy Raney/Bob Brookmeyer records, and predominantly features the counterpoint melodies between guitar and piano. Joseph and Stuart express this style in new and propulsive ways; extending it further through their own particular and individual voicings. A truly reverent pean to one of jazz's most respected guitarists who surely would have felt honored.
Track number three, "The King Charles Shuffle", is a tribute dedicated to the late, great blues saxophonist, King Charles. This is one of the many masterful musicians Joe did get to play with, Straight Ahead Backwards and upon hearing about his passing, composed this down home blues in the King's honor. "The King Charles Shuffle" shifts out of the blues into bebop harmony (a task very difficult for most guitar-ists to achieve) with great fluidity and ease, and we hear this trademark of Carter's displayed with impressive facility. This is an exciting song and bursts with a robust zest for life - you can damn near swear the musicians were grinning from ear to ear while they were cutting this track and you will to, every time you listen to it.
"Just One More Touch" is an R&B ballad altering the mood of the record considerably to a tone which is mournful and tragic; eventually elevating out of a feeling of loss into liberation as Carter's playing becomes more and more free as the song develops. You can hear Joseph playing in and out of styles very swiftly and fluidly: blues, R&B, rock, jazz - a true fusion in the purest sense of a myriad of styles which will become Joe's signature.
"Straight Ahead Backwards", the record's title track, is one of the most remarkable and compelling compositions of all. It is a fusion of bebop, blues, swing and 20th century composition. A tonal/non-tonal piece written obviously using a dialogue technique, whereby all the instrumentalists are conversing with one another in a very tightly structured pitch situation. Not only is there no actual key to this song, but it has no time signature as well, yet moves as if floating in some no-gravity zone. "This hasn't traditionally been done,"says Carter. "Perhaps in improvisation but not consciously." It is a completely written out, intricately arranged piece of music - very well crafted from beginning to end. Although contained within this structured framework, it retains a sound very free and spontaneous. Listen for Joe's unique and daring blend of Farlow, Raney, Monk like guitar playing, which although suggesting such comparisons, is certainly his own.
"Clickety Track", originally written for Joe's previous record with Bill Doggett, is here redone in a tempo slower than that on their New York Jazz & Soul Project. It is reminiscent of all those old blues numbers as in Wes Montgomery. The melody is very much like Mike Stern or John Scofield, and is influenced by their type of harmony and compositional style - tensions and extensions of chords, melody, etc. Another stand out track sure to become a classic in the decades to come and one for many a musician to sink their teeth into.
"Jibber-Jabber" is a composition where Mr. Carter wanted the guitar and piano to be carrying out a conversation and playing musical volleyball. This has very aggressive, almost Monk like guitar playing, but also swings with a Herb Ellis vibe. In this song, Joe goes in and out of time, playing over bar lines, not resolving melodies normally, but crossing over - this is done to create the illusion of no time. An exciting tension and ethereal quality is thus created, making it seem as if the song is floating or levitating in some strange hinterland - but rooted in a great musical vision using dialogue, counterpoint, bebop and 20th century interpretations. All of this sounds so strikingly modern, almost improvised, because of its immediacy and freshness; not cacophonous, because of the ease and ability in which Carter plays it - coalescing all his influences into a galvanizing and brilliant sound unlike anything previously encountered.
An outstanding record overall which affords continual listening. Each time you play it, you will find new and more subtle nuances and expressions which you had not heard before. Straight Ahead Backwards will move straight ahead by Mr. Carter's own "backwards" but singular and unparalleled vision into the future; ever present and contemporary.
There is a diversity of styles, as well, and Carter has created a record which, although so wide, varying and expansive in genre, still retains a cohesive sound - a testament to his vision and ability as a musician in realizing such a complex and difficult task. One of the marked reasons for this is the through line of his exciting and risky melding of so many musical forms which are distilled adeptly into a potent and singular whole - as well as his bold and inventive use of counterpoint and melodies between all the musicians.
Written by John Hanche