Larry Carlton is back and looking good. More than two years after he was shot in the neck by an unknown gunman, the guitarist shows no signs of being hampered by the injuries to his voice and left arm.
Any questions to the contrary were quickly dispatched at his Universal Amphitheatre concert Saturday night when Carlton opened his set with a whimsical, hard-swinging vocal on "Crazy Momma." It was, he explained, the first time he'd sung in public in 3 years, and his voice sounded firm and clear--a marked change from the whispery utterances that were all he could manage in the first year after the attack.
Carlton, who will play the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Thursday, stuck with the things he does best: one or two big, blowzy blues to showcase his high-flying, tone-twisting guitar lines; funk-driven night-music pieces like "All in Good Time," and a few Carlton standards like "Smiles and Smiles to Go" and "Knock on Wood." All very predictable stuff, but all done with the drive and enthusiasm that are Carlton's best qualities.
His one diversion from standard practices--a rousing, up-tempo romp through Miles Davis' "So What"--provided the evening's most unexpected musical sparks, both from Carlton and, especially, from the soloing of tenor saxophonist Hollis Gentry and keyboardist Terry Trotter.
Guitarist Stanley Jordan, who opened the program with a trio, has firmly moved his music into the arena of rock/funk/fusion. Working with a setup that allows him to employ his unique, string-tapping technique on two guitars, one for each hand, Jordan has become a virtual one-man orchestra. Using the guitars as synthesizer controllers, he produced sounds ranging from massive orchestra textures to small jazz-group timbres.
The results--especially during Jordan's interaction with bassist Charnett Moffett--were startling, if at times so technical as to lack a sense of emotional urgency. Jordan was far more moving when he encored with a passionately probing solo reading of "Over the Rainbow."
Larry Carlton plays Thursday at 8 and 10:30 p.m. at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Tickets: $17.50. Information: (714) 496-8930.