Chris Carver – Wonderland (2018)

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It’s hard to believe that more than two years have passed since Mississippi-based jazz composer and keyboardist Chris Carver released his debut, 2015’s Ghost in the Machine. The keyboardist hasn’t been inactive, however. In fact, Carver’s made memorable contributions to albums by Leslie Johnson, Adam Nitti and Jermaine Morgan, among others.

His new release Wonderland is a welcome return as band leader and principal composer. These 11 tracks find Chris Carver flexing his writing, arranging and producing muscles while moving his craft one step further ahead. Wonderland seems like a more focused effort than its strong predecessor.

The title track acts as a shot across the bow. Smooth trumpet and flute work are provided by Philip Lassiter and Jeff Coffin, respectively. Adam Nitti’s bass stands out, and the percussion of Stephen Maass adds just the right amount of fire as Jeff Coffin’s flute solo contributes to the vibe. Carver arranges a tight vehicle for the musicians, and provides an equally inspired Fender Rhodes solo.

“Saboroso” kicks things up to a higher gear, with its Latin-infused melody. Guitarist Mauro Hector and trumpeter Philip Lassiter get into some light sparing, while bassist Leslie Johnson ties in to the drum and percussion section with enthusiasm. Chris Carver’s acoustic piano solo delightfully dances with the rhythm section. The percussion break down by Emedin Rivera just adds to a good thing, and only hints at more to come elsewhere on Wonderland.

As strong as “Saboroso” is, “La Piroq Blé” may well be my favorite song on the album. The feisty New Orleans-like strut is centered on Carver’s Hammond B3. His maneuvering around the organ is a delight, and it seems to have inspired Shane Theriot’s guitar. Drummer Jason Palmer’s intertwined rhythms with Adam Nitti propels the song ahead, while Phillip Lassister’s horn chart gives “La Piroq Blé” even more bounce. Chris Carver’s arrangements tie it all together to make this a song you’ll listen to repeatedly.

“Thing of Beauty,” featuring guitar legend Brent Mason, starts with tasty synthesizer patches wrapped around Carver’s elegant acoustic piano play. Brent Mason’s electric guitar dances with the song’s main theme, and he gets to unleash a guitar solo which is unmistakably Mason just before Carver’s piano presses the main theme. Once again, horn arranger Phil Lassiter comes up with an unexpected horn twist which makes “Thing of Beauty” even more distinctive.

“Whatchulookinat,” in many ways, recalls some of Chris Carver’s earlier funk work outs. The song is a groove-infested organ workout that is not only a vehicle for Carver’s sly arranging skills but allows bassist Leslie Johnson and drummer Derico Watson to bounce the groove along. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the standout guitar solo by Snarky Puppy’s Mark Lettieri, which precedes an equally fine organ solo by Carver.

“Return of the Flying Dutchman,” the album’s final song, offers a wonderful twist with its swirling piano entry; that’s followed in quick succession by a fast-paced guitar and bass dance. As the song takes flight, cello, violin and viola intertwine with Chris Carver’s synth program to give the song touches of Jean-Luc Ponty meets the Dixie Dregs. Guitarist Hedras Ramos Jr.’s solo lifts off and is almost in the outer atmosphere, before Carver’s piano and the strings bring the song down to earth.

Is there one song which fully encapsulates Chris Carver’s Wonderland? Maybe not, but as a body of work, it is compelling, excellent listening.


Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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