Last Nite

Larry Carlton

MCA, 1986

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


You’d really have to work at it to find a reason to object to a Larry Carlton album.

A musician’s musician, this consummate pro’s instrumental jazz work has always been sharp and nimble and wonderfully melodic. He’s been a member of class acts like The Crusaders and Fourplay and got his start doing still-famous sessions for the likes of Steely Dan (Katy Lied) and Joni Mitchell (Court And Spark). In later years he’s explored blues and rock through a contemporary jazz lens with typically very engaging results.

Last Nite is a slightly different beast, a live album on which he tackles not one, but two tracks from the single most revered album in all of jazz, Miles Davis’ monumental Kind Of Blue, adapting them to his radio-friendly contemporary jazz stylings. This description alone—never mind the music—could be enough to bring the jazz traditionalists out in full torch-and-pitchfork regalia. And truth be told, I genuinely prefer the original Miles versions of “So What” and “All Blues”; their transcendent class and cool feel unattainable for any other artist.

But Carlton’s takes on them, like everything else the man does, are snappy, foot-tapping, tremendously agile and enthusiastic renderings. Carlton’s playing more often than not feels like an expression of pure joy, and that makes his music a pleasure to hear.

A nice touch that makes these smoothed-out renditions of “So What” and “All Blues” an easier sell is the overdubbing of a full three-man horn section that adds some snap and traditional jazz cred. It definitely sounds more old-school than Carlton’s typical arrangements, with electric piano and organ providing the primary counterpoints to his rangy lead guitar. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“So What” kicks off the set with drummer John Robinson honoring the original’s whispery, skittering, backdrop as Carlton solos over the top. The maestro leaves space for what feels like an overgenerous solo spot for keyboardist Terry Trotter, but considering Trotter served as his main musical foil for the better part of two decades, it’s understandable. In a way, this is the biggest nod to Miles in the entire arrangement; Carlton and band basically use the opening and closing of the original track as a frame for the lengthy, improvised solos in between. The horn section—Jerry Hey and Gary Grant on trumpet and Mark Russo on sax—shines here.

Returning to more familiar territory, Carlton lights up “Don’t Give It Up” with his swerving, dynamic solos as the rhythm section fuels the song with tremendous energy. Taken from the self-titled 1978 album that launched him as a solo performer, it’s a relatively concise five and a half minute highlight.

“The B.P. Blues” is slow and stately and full of lyrical soloing that’s complemented beautifully by the horn section. Tasty is the word that comes to mind. “All Blues” starts off with a tiptoeing Carlton solo that echoes the original’s trajectory, before Carlton and company take it off on a contemporary jazz direction. As Carlton comments in the liner notes, bassist Abraham Laboriel in particular has a blast in the middle and later sections, playing over, under and all around the original bassline.

The title track, taken from 1981’s terrific Sleepwalk album, opens with a snappy bass solo before Carlton steps in with an especially silky, snaking, sensuous line. This is where you really appreciate the man’s feel; Carlton caresses the strings like a lover, employing delicacy and sonic intuition, using the spaces between the notes as effectively as the notes themselves. Laboriel’s stutter-stepping bass line meanwhile drives the tension in the song, accented by Trotter’s moody keys. Simply sublime.

The set closes out on a quieter note, with the ballad “Emotions Wound Us So,” a tune Carlton wrote for his wife, singer Michele Pillar. It’s a gentle, understated number whose chief appeal lies once again in Carlton’s deft, sensitive lines.

Last Nite is a highlight in a career that’s seen many of them, a live album that succeeds in capturing multiple facets of Larry Carlton’s diverse musical personality—the melodic contemporary-jazz crowd-pleaser, the deeper jazz roots, and the blues element that grounds many of his best tunes in rich, resonant emotional shadings. It’s an album that says everything it needs to say in just six memorable tracks.

Rating: A-

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