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Psalms Without Words by Bill Carter

Bill Carter serves as pastor and head of staff at First Presbyterian Church of Clark's Summit, Pennsylvania. An Owego, New York native, Carter received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy with a Certificate in Religious Studies from Binghamton University. He earned his Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1985 and is ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA). His writings have been published in Journal for Preachers, Presbyterian Survey, Preaching, Lectionary Homiletics, The Christian Ministry, and Best Sermons 7. He is the author of three books of sermons, Water Won't Quench the Fire, No Box Seats in the Kingdom, and Praying for a Whole New World. A fourth book, Speaking of Stewardship, contains some of his sermons on stewardship themes.

As a jazz musician, Carter is a pianist, composer and arranger, having studied and performed with noted jazz artists such as Phil Woods, Jim McNeely, Jimmy Knepper, and Bob Brookmeyer. Carter has written liturgical music for the popular jazz communion services in his congregation, and has traveled widely in presenting jazz worship services in churches.

Carter’s primary musical association is with the Presbybop Quartet, which serves as the core group for this recording. No matter what the influences, and in this two CD-set the music was generated by Carter’s wanting to create music that resonates with the texts from the Book of Psalms without it being mere accompaniment, the final deciding factor has to be if the music works. In sum, Carter’s 22 compositions are typical late-night half-filled smoky club pieces played well by Carter’s band with a few added soloists.

The style of all the music is decidedly straight-ahead. Carter’s composing style tends towards the traditionally oriented "standards-song" model; melody and chord changes done in fake-book style with arrangements worked out among the members. If there’s a complaint it’s how so many of the compositions sound very similar without any single standout track. There are the nice slightly up tempo and upbeat pieces, like "Bill’s New Song" and "Inheriting A Parable," as well as ballads like "Sabbath Song" and "Heartsick."

Exceptions to this include a few more forward-thinking free pieces like "Tears In A Bottle." The opening is avant-garde oriented featuring a freely rubato bass and piano duet playing single line polyphonic contrasting phrases. Eventually an only-slightly-more traditionally oriented melody and more strictly metered section is presented. Recalling some of Eric Dolphy’s mid-level free conceptualizations, the tune loses direction towards the end. Free and openly harmonic music is harder to play than most musicians imagine, with the great free players like Evan Parker and Sam Rivers needing years to develop and perfect their craft.

The musicians on this disc are, for the most part, capable. Jeff Stockham struggles a little on his French horn solo on "Inheriting A Parable," but Al Hamme has a fine sprightly saxophone tone recalling Jay Beckenstein of Spyro Gyra and is a capable soloist. Carter is a good, not great, soloist, but his own personal playing is not the point of this collection. Ultimately the meaning of this music is the connection between God’s word and the individual performers’ and listeners’ hearts, minds and souls.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bill Carter
  • CD Title: Psalms Without Words
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Self-Released
  • Tracks: Bill’s New Song, Sabbath Song, Tears In A Bottle, Inheriting A Parable, Out Of The Depths, After Dark, The Lingering Questions, This Or That, Deep Calls Unto Deep, How Good It Is, Iona Morning, Haunted Landscape, Heartsick, Kristallnacht, In Mother’s Arms, Deliver Us From Evil, Liars, Bittersweet, Forget About Og, Turn Again, The Last Word and Everybody Dance
  • Musicians: Bill Carter (piano), Al Hamme (saxophone, clarinet), Jeff Stockham (trumpet, French horn), Tony Marino (bass), Ron Vincent (drums), Shawn McGloin (bass), Tom Whaley (drums), Steve Gilmore (bass)
  • Rating: Two Stars
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