You won't find saxophonist James Carter on the roster at Atlantic Records, where he made some of his best recordings -- including his audacious 2000 pairing, Layin' in the Cut/Chasin' the Gypsy. You also won't find him on Warner Bros. anymore, as he's now signed to Columbia. So it might behoove you to find this one-off, which is apparently a salvage job from the dying days of his Atlantic contract, before it goes out of print.
Live at Baker's Lounge is a great album, showcasing not only Carter's eclecticism but also his sense of tradition. And he's not the only sax star here: During the three days in June 2001 when this was recorded at the legendary Detroit jazz club, Carter was joined by masters Franz Jackson, David Murray, and the redoubtable bop icon Johnny Griffin.
Produced with striking clarity by Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, this leisurely, ridiculously catchy recording evokes the great, live bebop platters of the late '50s and '60s, when Sonny Rollins laid down indelible tracks for Blue Note, Johnny Griffin (the very same) dueled with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, and Coltrane waxed eloquent for Impulse! Which is not to say that this is retro; cuts like Jimmy Forrest's "Soul Street" and a lazy take on Gary McFarland's "Sack Full of Dreams" are full of unexpected phrasing, and the interplay among members of the sax lineup is a marvel. Vivid, kinetic, varied --"Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge" makes you wish you'd been there.