James Carney Group
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James Carney Group


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"Live Review/JCQ @ Disney Hall"

Live Review of
James Carney Quartet
REDCAT/Disney Hall
Los Angeles, October 22, 2008


By Greg Burk

Here comes James Carney, checking in from New York after an absence of four years, and the addition of a sporty short-bill hat isn’t the only thing that’s changed. He’s sitting down to the piano in a real concert auditorium instead of the backroom dives we used to see him in. He comports himself with a new seriousness, probably not only due to the death this year of his former drummer, Dan Morris. (Check my Previews about a Morris tribute in Eagle Rock this Sunday.) And though the material derives mostly from Carney’s L.A. back catalog, it rings with a more intellectual tone than it used to.
Part of the difference comes down to the room. The high-tech, wide-open REDCAT mini-auditorium in the Disney Hall complex encourages close listening; nobody’s got a drink in his fist, and the sound is clear even when, as tonight, the musicians opt to go mikeless.
Mainly, the change is in the band, especially the drummer. In contrast to the exuberant second-line slapping of Morris or the whispering subgroove constancy of Mark Ferber, skinsman Dan Weiss (heard on records by Rudresh Mahanthappa and Rez Abbasi) sneaks up on a beat. All accents at first, clicking on the top of the kick drum or flicking at the high hat from below, Weiss obsesses on counterpoint, letting bassist Chris Lightcap wrestle out a groove. Only late in a piece will Weiss pile it on, bringing the group together in a driving crescendo.
The quartet format, too, offers an alternate perspective. On his records, Carney often uses four horns, arranging their harmonies in strangely original patterns that alternately lead and obfuscate. Here, his accomplished longtime collaborator Tony Malaby (on tenor and soprano) finds himself in a soloist role, usually topping rather than blending into the ensemble with his sensual and expressive but contained sound. He’s louder than the others, a downside of eschewing microphones.
“Louisiana Raga” makes for an ideal intro. Lightcap bows long drones; Malaby blows soft overtones; Weiss scatters flies with his brushes; Carney reaches inside the grand piano to pluck strings. By the end of the tune, Carney has achieved understated ecstasy and the band is pushing hard.
The next selection, the new “Squatters,” focuses on rhythm, or analogies thereto. The instruments sidle up to one another from dark corners, finally drawstringing into one of Carney’s peculiarly conflicted melodies, proud yet frightened.
“Shame,” too, comes off as a kind of self-argument, tentative at the start and end, Malaby’s tenor holding the middle with a simple, beautiful plea for understanding.
The quartet ends the first set by going a little nuts: beats start-stopping, harmonies soused up, Weiss playing literal airbrushes -- flapping them in space so we can actually hear them.
The second set follows suit with the weighty counterpoints and scary vacancies of “Zelzah” and the quiet doubt of “In Lieu of Crossroads,” Malaby swaying as his soprano sadly wanders, Lightcap thrumming like an apprehensive heart.
Carney, meanwhile, floats in the most abstract sphere I’ve heard him inhabit -- fluttering and darting, light yet hectic. He receives a good hand after every 10-minute travelogue fades, and it’s obvious that he’s struck a chord with the audience. If anyone can turn uncertainty into art, it’s Mr. C.
- Greg Burk for metaljazz.com

"review of Green-Wood"


Green-Wood (Songlines)

The eight compositions presented here are meticulously crafted but hard to pin down, passing through an eclectic series of modernist riffs and unusual grooves, funky rhythms and moody meditations. Pianist/keyboardist Carney and a crack team of improvisers glide easily between themes and take small diversions into free playing, but it all sounds precisely plotted and thoroughly rehearsed. That it is neither is a testament to both the band’s skill and the cohesion underlying Carney’s expansive vision.

-Forrest Dylan Bryant

- Jazztimes Magazine

"Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2007"

POPMATTERS.COM / December 2007

James Carney's Green-Wood listed in "best20jazz of 2007" by popmatters.com


"Green-Wood was partly written as accompaniment for cinema, and it sounds like a great movie unto itself: there is drama, development, and a great sweep of colors. James Carney, a winner of the Thelonious Monk International Composers Award, writes cliché-free music, music that sounds naturally free of the charge that “all jazz sounds the same”. The four-piece horn section is used texturally and contrapuntally, and the whole group is free to improvise either inside or outside. Tony Malaby plays tons of saxophone, and Josh Roseman is a strong presence on trombone. The pianist plays plenty as well, and he plays with the architectural voicings of Herbie Hancock with his Mwandishi band. This band, despite the use of some funk and some electric piano, is much more expansive than a modern fusion group. It plays dark ballads, and it plays a kind of modern New Orleans sound. Green-Wood is epic: a movie that happens to play as fresh American music."
- PopMatters.com

"audiophile review of Green-Wood"

THE ABSOLUTE SOUND / November 2007

Ratings: Music 4.5 (of 5) / Sonics 4.5 (of 5)

JAMES CARNEY GROUP / GREEN-WOOD. Carney, Producer. Songlines 1566 (Hybrid Multichannel SACD).

Bandleader, pianist, composer, and arranger James Carney has been hailed as one of the "brightest lights" of the new jazz scene. He won the 1999 Thelonious Monk International Composers Award and garnered 2002 Best Jazz Artist honors from LA Weekly. His move to New York City in 2004 opened his eyes to what Carney calls "the sonic magic" of the Big Apple's vibrant post-bop improv jazz scene.

Here, he has assembled a talent-laden septet featuring four horn players and built around former CalArts classmates Peter Epstein (soprano sax) and Ralph Alessi (trumpet). The result is a fresh, engaging, and intellectually challenging mix of modern creative and avant-jazz that often has a cinematic quality. That latter attribute is no accident: two of the tracks, "Power" and "Shame," were commissioned in 2006 as part of a 90-minute score for the 1925 silent-era film His People.

Sonically, this is an aural feast in both stereo and five-channel hi-def sound. From the tight, punchy synth-bass passage that heralds the opening "Power" to the sublime ride cymbal that shimmers above the richly orchestrated "It's Always Cold When You're Leaving," listeners are in for a treat. - GREG CAHILL

Further listening: James Carney, Fables from the Aqueduct; Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet, Way Out East
- The Absolute Sound

"Joe's Pub CD release preview"

The New York Times
Sunday, August 12, 2007

THE WEEK AHEAD - Nate Chinen

On the same night [August 14, 2007] the pianist JAMES CARNEY reconvenes the seven-piece ensemble heard on “Green-Wood” (Songlines), his new album. It’s a literate crew, packed with players like the soprano saxophonist Peter Epstein and the trumpeter Ralph Alessi. And they all dig deeply into Mr. Carney’s compositions, which propose a precarious equilibrium. This music is harmonically sophisticated, texture crazy, groove driven but unconcerned with swing: in other words, a distillation of concepts that have gained traction on the left margin of jazz’s mainstream. Tuesday at 9:30 p.m., Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street, at Astor Place, East Village, (212) 539-8778, joespub.com; $12.

- The New York Times

"Review of Green-Wood"

CADENCE MAGAZINE / September 2007

Power / Smog Cutter / It’s Always Cold When You’re Leaving /
Shame / Williwaw / In Lieu of Crossroads / The Poetry Wall / Half
The Battle (bonus track). 66:50.
Carney, ac p, e p, analog synth, orchestra bells; Peter
Epstein: ss; Ralph Alessi, tpt; Tony Malaby, ts; Josh
Roseman, tbn; Chris Lightcap, b; Mark Ferber, d.
Brooklyn, NY, June 24-25, 2006.

Green-Wood features the working band of keyboardist James Carney, who recently relocated from Los Angeles to New York. Joined by the expressive horns of Ralph Alessi, Tony Malaby, Josh Roseman, and Peter Epstein, and the sterling rhythm section of Chris Lightcap and Mark Ferber, Carney employs some of the most enterprising young musicians to emerge from the New York scene in years. His fourth album as a leader (with the previous three on the Jacaranda label), it is his first for the Songlines label. Blending acoustic and electronic instrumentation with an organic sensibility, Carney’s septet navigates his robust, eloquent compositions with ease. Carney’s studied aesthetic blends classic modernism with knowing futurism; contrapuntal horn arrangements and rich harmonies interlock with odd-metered rhythms, yielding a sophisticated orchestral sensibility. Like his creative contemporaries, Carney avoids rote head-solo-head structures, favoring modular compositions with episodic arcs and unconventional solo accompaniment. Rich, billowy impressionistic sweeps and gritty funk back-beats support thematically concise solos and roiling free-form collective improvisation. His multi-layered writing embodies characteristics of other homegrown iconoclasts, recalling the contemporaneous work of Dave Douglas, Marty Erlich and Rob Reddy at their most accessible, as well as Keith Jarrett and Weather Report. Carney plays piano with a mellifluous lilt, tempering his lofty melodies with a bittersweet edge and capricious phrasing. Unimpeded by genre constraints, he willfully recalls the buoyant lyricism of Vince Guaraldi on the head melody of “It’s Always Cold When You’re Leaving,” taking a lengthy unaccompanied solo that deconstructs classic stride conventions with abstract verve.
Occasionally plugging in, Carney favors the warm tonality of old analog synths and overdriven electric piano, embracing a tradition that stretches from Wayne Horvitz back to Paul Bley. Approximating the nuanced touch of an acoustic instrument, he spins waves of feedback and luminous washes into a lush web of electronic sustain. The frontline horn section of Alessi, Malaby, Roseman, and Epstein weave a sonorous web of plangent voicings. Playing Carney’s charts with conviction while navigating through his cellular structures, they make the music dance off the page. The pliant rhythm section of Lightcap and Ferber are a rising presence in the Downtown scene, and their sharp interplay here demonstrates why.
From driving rock riffs, intense Gospel-inflected horn charts and swirling electronic atmospheres to driving second line rhythms, Carney embraces a plethora of styles. Oscillating swirls of texture and color come to the fore on the roiling meditation “Power” and the driving “The Poetry Wall.” The epic pacing of “Shame” borrows the patient phrasing of a hymn, while “Smog Cutter” inserts tricky rhythm changes into a contrapuntal horn line, knitting a mosaic of gorgeous textures and moods. Pointing the way toward the future, Carney’s electro-acoustic ensemble marries resonant melodies to challenging structures, combining the best aspects of today’s creative improvised music into a rewarding whole. -Troy Collins - Cadence Magazine

"ALL ABOUT JAZZ review of Green-Wood"

ALL ABOUT JAZZ – New York / August 2007

James Carney (Songlines)
By Terrell Holmes

Keyboardist and composer James Carney might be described as a friendly iconoclast, an artist who enthusiastically explores new concepts at the cutting edge of jazz and welcomes listeners to share what he’s discovered instead of daring them to keep up. The borough of Brooklyn is the inspiration for Carney’s latest journey, Green-Wood, where he joins some old friends to create an impressive aural feast.

Carney is a stylistic chameleon who uses different textures and colors to create tension and augment a song’s complexity. “Power”, for instance, gradually evolves like a small galaxy until the song becomes a cohesive free jazz unit with all of the elements in their proper orbits. “Smog Cutter”, driven by Carney’s synthesizer and Mark Ferber’s drumming, is a solid example of electro-funk in the fusion tradition of Herbie Hancock. The heartfelt “It’s Always Cold When You’re Leaving” has an almost Ellingtonian type of orchestration and arrangement, whereas “Shame” is a different kind of symphony, with Ralph Alessi’s trumpet, Peter Epstein’s soprano, Tony Malaby’s tenor and Josh Roseman’s trombone combining for a gritty, complex sound reminiscent of Coltrane’s Ascension or Meditations. These same horns tenderly answer each other on “Williwaw” instead of trying to blow each other away. “In Lieu of Crossroads” has a plucked bass solo by Chris Lightcap at its hub that leads to another free jazz excursion.

Any brief moments of conventionality on Green-Wood are trumped by Carney’s eclecticism. His excellent composing transcends the established musical borders and stares down current definitions of what jazz should be.

- All About Jazz / New York


James Carney Group / Green-Wood (Songlines)
**** (4 stars) All Music Guide

Review – August 2007
by Scott Yanow

One of the most promising jazz composers and keyboardists, James Carney moved from Los Angeles to New York in November 2004. Since that time he has increased his visibility and played with many top local musicians, including the six on this CD. While there are moments in Carney's music where one is reminded a little of the inside/outside music of Keith Jarrett's 1970s American quintet, most of Carney's writing is more advanced and quite unpredictable, following a logic of its own. Each of the horn players has his moments in the spotlight but the complex ensembles, the impressionistic themes, and Carney's versatile work on piano and electric keyboards make Green-Wood particularly special. Thus far, all of James Carney's recordings are high-quality examples of modern creative jazz.

http://wm08.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=10:hnfwxzwgldae - All Music Guide to Jazz

"Spotlight Review of THREAD"

James Carney / Thread
September 2003

Pianist James Carney bares his creative soul in this moody, beguiling release. Though expressed in the traditional piano trio format with drums and bass, Carney's compositions range far beyond standard jazz fare, drawing from genres as disparate as Indian ragas and New Orleans piano, Brazilian afoxe and Jarrett-esque lyricism. His playing is exquisite, and he gets the most out of the beautiful sound of his piano. It's a downright thought-provoking set of tracks, a pleasure to hear, and engaging from first note to last. - Ernie Rideout [editor] - Keyboard Magazine

"Swept off my feet by "newcomer" James Carney"

POPMATTERS.COM (Album Rating: 9 of 10)

James Carney Group
US release date: 7 August 2007
UK release date: Available as import
by Will Layman

Honest-to-goodness musical talent is a powerful thing. It’s like a wave, coming at you any way it can, leaking under doorways and into your ears. And, like a wave, great musical talent lifts you to closer to the sky. James Carney has it.

Green-Wood is Carney’s fourth jazz album and his first since moving from Los Angeles to Brooklyn in 2004. The winner of 1999’s Thelonious Monk International Composers Award, Carney is not the latest Young Lion Jazz Cat—he got his BFA in jazz piano from CalArts in 1990 (studying under professors Charlie Haden, James Newton, and John Carter, among others) and has gigged, composed, taught (at Eastman, NYU, Ithaca, and Williams, just for example), and played all over. Maybe it’s more fair to say that Carney is a composer and pianist whose talent is suddenly and irresistibly coming alive. Green-Wood is an electro-acoustic revelation—a set of arrangements and performances that renew jazz from within and from without. Both fun and instructive to absorb, the latest from James Carney is the best new jazz of 2007.

Green-Wood sets a four-piece horn section against a nimble rhythm section fronted by the composer. Peter Epstein (soprano sax), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Tony Malaby (tenor sax), and Josh Roseman (trombone) are a cream-of-the-crop horn section—the former pair conspirators from Carney’s CalArts days, the latter two among the hippest of New York downtown blowers. Carney plays acoustic piano, Rhodes, and old school analog synths, with Chris Lightcap (acoustic bass) and Mark Ferber (drums) in grooving accompaniment. Utilized as a mini-big band, the group sounds orchestral in its range of colors, textures and lines.

But, putting aside technicalities of arrangement and writing (which technicalities Carney seems to be a master of), this band plays adventurous, loose-limbed jazz that is deeply informed by contemporary music from beyond the jazz wall. This is not to call it “jazz fusion” as that term was understood originally (that is, rock played by jazz musicians or jazz tunes played in a rock/funk style). Rather, this is modern, improvised music that organically draws on the composer’s natural feel for a whole variety of styles associated both with jazz and popular music. For example, “The Poetry Wall” builds layers of sound atop a funky 8/8 time, with Ferber and Lightcap playing the kind of dancing, syncopated groove that might have been played by Stevie Wonder in the 1970s. That groove, however, is not set up as a danceable funk but as a polyrhythmic canvas on which Carney can paint a complex landscape. He populates this world with both electric and acoustic keyboards, depending on how he wants the light to slant through the trees, and uses the horns in smooth, stacked harmonies, in counterpoint, in growled or swirling improvisation—all of it unpredictable and plastic, a moldable world of sound.

In some places, this music embraces the sonic liberation of “free jazz”. On the opener, “Power” (one of two tunes commissioned to accompany a silent film), Tony Malaby plays a squeaky-free dialogue with Carney’s synths and Ferber’s kit. Slowly, the other horns and bass enter until the group has established a new-century Dixieland sound—which suddenly resolves into a unison lick and series of horn punches. These melodies are not “hummable” in the show tune sense, but they tend to be built from blues fragments and hip licks that Carney inverts, repeats, and otherwise plays with. When the proper solos begin, it is never a matter of cats simply blowing over the changes. Rather, the rhythm section is given specific patterns and riffs to play beneath Ralph Alessi’s inventions.

In other places, the music is even more explicit about embracing pop sounds. “Smog Cutter” starts with a rubbery bass line that could have been written by Herbie Hancock in 1972—indeed if there is one great band the JC group recalls, it is Hancock’s Mwandishi Sextet. Among more recent analogues, the group can occasionally recall one of Keith Jarrett’s quartets in how it incorporates open folk sounds or Steve Coleman’s MBASE groups in how it daringly cuts up time.

Just as often, however, Carney and friends are contemplative and dark. “Shame” builds funereal textures of horns and synths into a fog of harmony. “In Lieu of Crossroads” keeps the horns in low blend, playing with the acoustic piano, before giving way to a bass solo that eventually invites back atmospheric commentary from Roseman, Alessi, Malaby, and Epstein. “It’s Always Cold When You’re Leaving” begins with a snappy opening, the horns echoing the counterpoint of Carney’s two hands, then gives way to a remarkably free and moody solo piano section. Though Carney presents himself as a composer and arranger, his playing is rich with imagination and play—as if Jaki Byard and Don Pullen had spent much time fashioning a single successor to their work.

There are many brilliant young pianists in jazz today, and many have experimented with electric/acoustic approaches to the new century’s music. Jason Moran, Uri Caine, Matthew Shipp, and Brad Mehldau are just four names. But James Carney deserves to be squarely among them. His tidal wave of a new album, Green-Wood, is a minor masterpiece if not even greater than that. Its melodies, grooves, and bravery should easily buoy the music into tomorrow.

RATING: 9 of 10
— 22 August 2007

- PopMatters.com


All with James Carney as leader:

Ways & Means (July 2009, Songlines)
Green-Wood (2007, Songlines)
Thread (2002, Jacaranda)
Offset Rhapsody (1997, Jacaranda)
Fables from the Aqueduct (1994, Jacaranda)




“Mr. Carney is a sharp pianist and a broadly imaginative conceptualist and composer.” -The New York Times.

Pianist, keyboardist and composer James Carney is an improviser who draws inspiration from many different sources of music, and he has been fortunate to work as a sideman/collaborator with unique artists like Ravi Coltrane, Tim Berne, Christian McBride, Michael Cain, Elliot Randall, Darek Oleszkiewicz, Nels Cline, and many other musicians working in various genres. Carney was born and raised in Syracuse, New York, and in late 2004, he moved from Los Angeles, his home of eighteen years, to New York City.

James Carney has cultivated a reputation for developing an original, polystylistic approach to making music - a philosophy that respects and explores both tradition and the avant-garde. His latest album as leader, Green-Wood (Songlines 1566) was released in 2007 to wide acclaim. The septet he leads on the recording, also known as the James Carney Group, features some of New York’s most creative and in-demand musicians: trumpeter Ralph Alessi, tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby, trombonist Josh Roseman, saxophonist Peter Epstein, bassist Chris Lightcap, and drummer Mark Ferber.

In Fall 2008, the James Carney Group premiered and recorded "Ways and Means," a long-form composition and “virtual film score” commissioned by Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Ways and Means will be released in spring 2009 by Songlines, and Carney is also working on a new commission for the Puffin Cultural Foundation, which will be premiered by the James Carney Group in May 2009. Carney has released several other albums of original material: Thread (2002); Offset Rhapsody (1997); Fables from the Aqueduct (1994) all on the Jacaranda label. Other commissions have come from the California Arts Council, The Extension Ensemble brass quintet, and the Syracuse International Film Festival.

The James Carney Group is the 2009 recipient of the ASCAP / Chamber Music America “Adventurous Programming” Award. James Carney also won the 1999 Thelonious Monk International Composers Award, a California Arts Council fellowship in composition (2000), and two American Composers Forum Subito Grants (2001 & 2004). He received “Best Jazz Artist” honors at the 2002 LA Weekly Music Awards, and he was on the roster of the California Arts Council Touring Program from 1998-2004. Carney also served on the advisory council of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Composers Forum, and he has been a visiting artist at The Eastman School of Music, New York University, Cal State Los Angeles, the University of Nevada at Reno, Ithaca College, Williams College, Saddleback College, and the University of Missouri at St. Louis. He is also on the faculty of the School for Improvisational Music in Brooklyn.

James Carney began to focus on the piano at fifteen, and spent years playing many types of rock and pop music as a keyboardist around upstate New York and New England. He graduated with a B.F.A. degree in jazz piano performance from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where he studied with Charlie Haden, James Newton, David Roitstein, Nyomen Wenten, Alfred and Kobla Ladzekpo, and the late John Carter.

James Carney endorses Baldwin Pianos, Motion-Sound amplifiers, Alesis synthesizers and Coda Music Technology’s Finale.