A pivotal album inspired by a pivotal, life-changing experience, “Game On” is the apropos title of Kenyon Carter’s forthcoming album, a ten-song set of originals that the saxophonist wrote and produced in this “Go for it!” moment in his career. Due August 14, his third disc knocks it out of the park with an MVP assist from guitar great Chuck Loeb (Fourplay), a contemporary jazz heavyweight who trades ferocious licks with Carter’s spirited tenor horn. There’s a sense of urgency to the cut that can be directly attributed to an incident in Carter’s not too distant past that informs everything the Atlanta-based artist does in life and career.
Carter’s arm was mangled in a car crash resulting in severe radial nerve damage. Doctors didn’t know if the appendage would ever function normally again thus putting the musician’s career choice in peril. Undeterred, Carter utilized a specially-designed therapy glove, spending countless hours daily for eight months trying to relearn how to play sax. Since he couldn’t perform at the time, he taught others to play and in time, with hard work, full use of the arm returned. Realizing how close he was to losing his dream, Carter recommitted himself towards achieving his career goals in music.
Earlier albums introduced Carter to the masses, charted and collected national airplay. The third album seemed like a milestone thus Carter focused on elevating his game feeling like the time to breakthrough in a big way is now. Hitting full stride artistically, he ably demonstrates his proficiency as a player on tenor, soprano and baritone sax while constructing layers of rhythmic grooves that buttress sweet melodies and lush harmonies. Whether serenely serenading, dexterously exploring the outer limits on a meandering run or uncorking fiery wails as if his life depended upon it, Carter’s saxplay serves in the best interest of the ensnaring melodies and gripping rhythms without overstepping or over dramatizing.
While the record was being recorded, Carter issued a single to radio to stir up an appetite for the full session. The head-bopping funkster “Jammin’ On Jupiter” was one of the most added singles on the Billboard chart in its debut week. The title track opens the proceedings and is the second single heading to radio ahead of the album’s street date. Starting coyly, a knowing glance breaks into the charming “Just A Smile.” The heart-tugging “Going Home” is warmly moving and beautiful amidst a stripped down acoustic setting. “Sea Of Abaco” floats upon a soothing soprano sax wave of tranquility. The album was recorded using Carter’s well-rehearsed live band, who challenge with complex time changes and a brisk vacillating pace on “Moving Forward,” a number that the soprano-yielding Carter describes as navigating “a bridge between straight-ahead and contemporary jazz.” Cool jazz illuminates “Wine On Eight,” a seductive happy hour social invitation while the mellow vibes continue on “Lights Down Low.” Intimacy pervades the poignant “In This Moment” before Carter & Company close the album with the rousing “Here We Go,” concluding with some of the saxman’s most feverish play on the recording.
Carter has a pair of Atlanta-area album launch concert dates booked for mid-August (Aug. 15 at Marietta Jazz & Jokes at Historic Marietta Square and Aug. 22 in Alpharetta at The Velvet Note) to help parlay the hometown momentum into national prominence.