There’s something of the showboat in most performers — an aspect that can be extremely annoying or quite compelling, depending how judiciously it’s put to use. It has taken a while, but saxophonist James Carter, long one of the flashier players on the modern jazz scene, has finally segued from the former mode into the latter.
Kicking off the set with “Layin’ in the Cut” — the title track from one of two Atlantic albums released under his name on Tuesday — Carter made no bones about stressing the “Electric” portion of his quintet’s name. He used his tenor to dredge up plenty of grit, engaging guitarist Jef Lee Johnson in a prickly duel and squawking blowsy lines in wry imitation of a patron who disregarded the Blue Note’s no-cell-phone policy.
Carter switched to soprano sax for an impassioned take on “Requiem for Hartford Avenue,” a composition that allowed ample room for his fast-and-fiery flurries. More significantly, the song — as performed by the new-look Carter — also had space for the rest of the quintet to strut its stuff.
The most pleasant surprise on that front was bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, a one-time fixture on the New York scene who has been gigging regularly in town for the first time in years. Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston goosed “There’s a Paddle” into paroxysms of swing — answered by Carter’s peppery soloing
Guitarist Russell Malone, who shares this weeklong stint with Carter, hasn’t quite developed the same level of maturity as the headliner. His playing, crisp and deft, is difficult to fault, but his parsimonious attitude toward sharing the spotlight — including sharp glances at his watch during his bandmates’ solos — undercut the flow of the set, which was highlighted by the Dixie-fried original “Mugshot.