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Joe Cartwright Quartet Live at The Blue Room


The groove is so compelling. As I enter the front door, I automatically move to the beat.

It’s jazz pianist Joe Cartwright and the band. Cartwright is known around the city as Jazz Royalty. So’s the drummer, Doug Auwarter, and young bassist, Ben Leifer is well on his way.

The curly-gray-haired Mikole Kaar was on tenor sax and flute, just in from California. We’re about to find out how lucky we are to have him. He’s here to stay.

There’s excitement and energy in the room. Audience members, bowing down to greatness but also having a good time. The music is rolling and there’s no holding back this piano player. He spills it out on the keys, head shaking, head nodding, riffing to Ojos Rojo or Eyes of Red by pianist Cedar Walton. The drummer and bassist quiet down to let Joe soar. Then drummer peels his skins, and lets it rip, cymbals crashing to crescendo. The steady bass holdin’ down the ceiling. These guys know the ropes. Flute brings it up a notch. A skinny little instrument that has tons of power. Bass croaks out a response the way frogs signal across a pond.

Next: The slow, thoughtful Rapture by tenor saxophonist Harold Land. Beginning with Leifer doing an extended solo, well thought out, with Cartwright filling the holes before taking over with his own solo that includes a haunting Something’s Coming quote from Westside Story.

Before the next number we hear Kaar telling Cartwright, “We’re in Kansas City and it’s his birthday month, says Karr, “We gotta do a Parker song.

So, it’s Scrapple from the Apple.”

The tenor sax confidently leads. No need for charts. They all simply go to it. Pull it out of thin air the way the man himself did or maybe they’re pulling it out of some place inside themselves?

Joe solos, cool as always. But, surprising us with punctuation marks. Then Ben gives us a steady walking bass solo. The four of them trade fours and come to a powerful and abrupt end.

Cartwright, sensitive to hard work, announces,

“Because you all paid a cover charge, there’s no tip jar tonight. But please, tip your drink servers; they deserve it.”

Then: Herbie Mann’s Comin’ Home, Baby. They open with Kaar on the flute. A flute that fits the melody like a kid glove. Cartwright solos, two-finger jabs at the keys before Leifer takes over and then everyone gets quiet—with the drum whisperer—tapping to the beat. The flute back in to take it out, with a raucous ending from Joe.

Lastly we’re treated to a Cartwright Quartet original, Samba Feliz (Happy Samba).

Kaar establishes the Latin groove with his flute. Even before the other 3 come in. Ben solos. Doug rocks the house, with a bright red shaker and a rollicking drum. Joe takes the solo and plays as if he’s talking to an old familiar friend. Then swipes down the entire keyboard! This signals the end. The flute, bass, and drum hit it strong. A light twittering flute concludes.

With the set over the crowd exhales, giving thanks to the Jazz Gods for this Special Feast, A Feast of Manna from Heaven.

—Marilyn Carpenter

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