I wasn't sure what to expect. I think I had heard James Carter with Christian McBride in Philly some years ago, the set was technically stunning but rather cold, maybe the result of playing in the beautiful but distancing Perelman Theater at the Kimmel
. The set at the Herbst Theatre for the SF Jazz Festival started slightly ragged: Adam Rogers's electric guitar seemed to be drowned by John Medeski's over-emphatic playing on the organ. But then Carter told us in his introduction to expect some live adjustments as that this particular ensemble had not played together since over a year ago. At some point in the first number, Rogers walked out and Carter followed him backstage and they walked back talking to each other a few minutes later. Maybe nothing unusual, but we couldn't really hear Rogers until then, and I know from his work with Chris Potter a few weeks ago that he's not showy but you can really hear his amazingly complex and subtle work when he meshes with the rest of the band. The set got steadily better after that, with Carter, Ralphe Armstrong on acoustic and electric bass, and Lee Pearson on drums working to stitch the team together and create space for Rogers to bring out his concentrated magic, which is never easy to follow but rewards with concentrated, unexplainably gripping harmonies and rhythmic complexity. As the set developed, it got increasingly more coherent, more surprising, and totally different from anything I've heard in the last several years. All in all, I didn't find Medeski as convincing as the rest of the band. Armstrong and Pearson were outstanding (I had never heard either live), Rogers confirmed the strong impression I had from the Potter Underground concert, and Carter did a lot more than just confirm his virtuosity. After the main set, Carter and Armstrong did a beautiful, full of heart and humor duet of a Don Byas composition.