Bill Carter & the Presbybop Quartet,
Fragile Incarnation
(self-produced, 2002)

The house of jazz has many rooms. Hey, I can't believe I said that, but listening to and thinking about Bill Carter makes me feel, like, all mellow and wise. The effect is especially noticeable with his latest album Fragile Incarnation. Just saying the title makes me think that, when I glance in the mirror, Yoda will be looking back. And how can you dislike a Presbyterian pastor who quotes Miles Davis and Karl Barth in the same sermon? Only at your own peril.

To try this a shade less obliquely. Readers of a previous favorable Rambles review of Bill Carter will know he is a pastor who has successfully integrated jazz into his religious calling. My "many rooms" comment came to me when I considered Christian jazz in the context of jazz history. A church wasn't one of the first places you might have found King Oliver or Bix Beiderbecke playing trumpet in the early days. I hesitate to say where you might have looked instead. I'm sure there are purists who would claim this means Bill Carter can't be playing "real" jazz or, certainly, "good" jazz, but he is and he does. He and his fellow musicians in fact have a long list of credits for their playing with mainstream boppers including Phil Woods, Dave Liebman and Mose Allison. I like the idea that jazz is adaptable to new uses and that religion can be flexible enough to incorporate new sources of creativity and satisfaction.

The Presbybop Quartet includes Bill Carter (piano), Al Hamme (saxes and flute), Tony Marino (bass) and Tom Whaley (drums). The sound is mild, mainstream bop -- more complex than smooth jazz, but well short of squeaks and honks. Charlie Ricci, who reviewed the Quartet's last album for Rambles, hears Brubeck in Carter's playing. I hear it as harmonically more straightforward and certainly without the heavy block chords Brubeck often uses. In the solo work there's even a tiny hint of George Winston. Other players sit in on a few cuts. Trumpeter Jeff Stockham is a particular stand-out. Warren Cooper displays a warm and pleasant baritone voice on two tracks.

There's a variety of tempos and moods on the album, but the cover of Fragile Incarnation, with its doves and stars, is a beautiful suggestion of the predominant effect the Presbybop Quartet is aiming for here and achieves. All the tunes, including a couple of well-known Christmas carols, are associated with the Christian church. I hope that doesn't restrict the audience. We can all use a little peace and joy.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 23 November 2002

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