I first heard the impressive trumpet player Charlie Caranicas one night in 2005 at the much-missed jazz club, The Cajun, when he was part of Kevin Dorn’s devil-may-care ensemble, the Traditional Jazz Collective. Tall and serious-looking, Charlie offered one shapely solo after another, playing throughout the range of his horn with a glossy brilliance, never straining for effect but making us sit up and take admiring notice. He had his own sound, his own easy swing. At the time, he had only one CD under his own name, GREEN CHIMNEYS.
But there’s cause for celebration: a new duet CD featuring Charlie and pianist Tom Roberts has come out, and he has recorded another as a sideman with pianist Jesse Gelber and singer Kate Manning. A veritable onslaught of Caranicas!
His most recent CD, MOVE OVER (Black Knight Records) is compelling, whether it’s romping or thoughtful. I leave the entire history of trumpet (cornet) piano duets to Phil Schaap’s learned notes. This CD captures Charlie’s lovely sound and amazing stylistic range. That last phrase might alarm some readers, but Charlie is real to the core. He’s not another one of those players who can “do” the whole history of jazz, making all local stops — but it’s all synthetic. (You can draw up your own list of such highly-praised players, slithering from one unconvincing pastiche after another: no need to abuse them here.)
Charlie gets under the skin of the song he’s playing: he can comfortably settle down in Twenties Louis (“Once In A While,” “Wild Man Blues,” a muted “Willie the Weeper,” and my favorite, “Yes, I’m In the Barrel”) without being hemmed in by stylistic conventions. And “Move Over,” the CD’s title track, evokes the whole Ellington band — in addition, it’s a fine, neglected song. Charlie’s “I’m Comin’ Virginia,” a heartfelt tribute, has a bounce, rather than being another semi-elegiac homage to Bix. And catch Charlie’s admirable technique in the closing arpeggio, ascending into the sky! His versions of two of the most beautiful melodies imaginable, “Lotus Blossom” and “Blame It On My Youth” are all heart. The repertoire is admittedly traditional, but Charlie’s traditionalism isn’t narrow: his solos have the energy of the great Swing Era trumpeters, but I also found myself thinking of Clifford Brown’s recordings with strings. And the comparison does Charlie every credit.
The other half of the duo, Tom Roberts, is a masterful accompanist, whose knowledge of the piano tradition is happily on display at every turn. Here’s a Morton flourish, a singing Stacy line, a Hines tremolo, some fervent stride. His solos dance and strut, but it’s his teamwork, generous and intuitive, that shines. This one’s a keeper! Check out www.charliejazz.com or call 800-543-9158 for more information, or if your local record store (remember record stores?) is all out, the Caranicas bin understandably depleted.
About GREEN CHIMNEYS. I had to ask Charlie to dig out a copy of his 1994 CD for me, and it may be a rarity, hard to find. But it’s worth searching for. On it, he plays fluegelhorn as well as trumpet, and is joined by reedman Bob Parsons, pianist Frank Kimbrough, Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass, and Tim Horner on drums and percussion. On the surface, it is a post-bop excursion worlds away from MOVE OVER, but that’s only the surface. The opening track rocks Monk’s dissonant blues as it deserves, with Parsons’ tart alto perfectly paired to Charlie (over a propulsive rhythm section). Because much of the music is blues-based, I thought of the Horace Silver and Cannonball Adderley groups, but there’s a timeless swing to the CD — with Charlie summoning up Sweets Edison and a whole host of Ellington brass. I was particularly moved by his touching “Diane,” Strayhorn-inspired without being derivative. His “Prelude and Jam” begins as a growly soliloquy, then with Parsons’ lovely clarinet flourishes underneath, turns the corner into a soundtrack for a yet-unfilmed adventure movie. “Makin’ Whoopee” is a properly winking trumpet-bass duet. Even at the fastest tempos, Charlie doesn’t do what Louis Armstrong deplored: he doesn’t “run away from his notes,” and every one’s a pearl.
As fine a leader as Charlie is, he’s also a peerless sideman, getting in to the mood of whatever ensemble he’s in. A particularly happy example of this is GELBER AND MANNING GOES PUBLIC, subtitled “The Latest Musical Gaiety,” an accurate description for sure. Gelber is Jesse, an energetic pianist-singer (and underrated composer) who goes his own ways at the keyboard, concocting his own heady version of stride and parlor piano. His partner, Kate Manning, is blessed with a wondrous voice — as brassy as Judy Garland at her best, as tender as Mildred Bailey at her most blue. What distinguishes them from anyone else now performing is that they have An Act with the most novel repertoire: good songs, mostly frisky but a few yearning, from the Public Domain — before anyone reading this post was born, perhaps. Their CD and live appearances also feature a line of snappy boy-girl patter (wistful, romantic, or double-entendre) that would have made them the hit of the Keith-Orpheum circuit. On their CD, they are nobly supported by our men Charlie and Kevin Dorn. You can rely on Kevin to keep a steady, rocking four-bar pulse, ornamented with touches of Krupa, Wettling, or Leeman, and Charlie offers “hot” playing that made me think of a caffeinated Muggsy Spanier who had left all his cliches at home. You’ll have to hear the CD to savor its pleasures, and I urge you to do so (check out www.gelbermusic.com).
Charlie and his friends, whatever the context, are multi-talented, highly rewarding players.