INFANT EYES: ALBUM REVIEW
Doug Carn’s Infant Eyes sounds like it was performed by an orchestra. Although structured like many other jazz quartet albums, within the album’s 42-minute run-time you get to hear the bass, drums, trumpet, flugelhorn, flute, saxophone, organ, and several different trombones and piano. These instruments seamlessly weave their way in and out of the mix, played by the same five musicians, and make Infant Eyes feel larger than life. Doug Carn utilizes this variety of instruments spectacularly to allow for so many creative experiments on this project. Gliding over the top of all of these instruments is the beautiful voice of Jean Carn, her vocals warping and darting between lulls in the music. When all these elements come together the music on Infant Eyes approaches the sublime and shows the magic of what Doug Carn can compose.
Doug Carn is a ferocious bandleader who made his name recording a trio of incredible albums for Black Jazz Records in the 1970s. He expertly blended spiritual jazz with elements of fusion and more bee bop to create a uniquely immense sound. His influence was far-reaching and he collaborated with many of the jazz and pop greats of the day, including Nat Adderley, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Melvin Van Peebles. His musical influence has extended into today as he has been cited as an influence by both Solange and Earl Sweatshirt. Infant Eyes was Carn’s first album in his prolific 1970s period and demonstrates the best of what Carn has shown he can do.
The album begins with the aptly titled song “Welcome” that introduces the viewer to everything they need to know about the project. The track begins with flute trills over brassy trombone notes and it sounds exactly like a slowly bubbling pot of water. For the entire minute and a half of this song this pot continues to bubble until it explodes on the next track “Little B’s Poem.” “Little B’s Poem” is a chaotic song and alternates between oscillating vocal melodies and the absolutely frantic trumpet trills of Bob Frazier. While the vocals and trumpet fight for prominence Michael Carvin swings away at lightning speed on the drums. For some reason, this chaotic instrumental makes the lyrics to this classic jazz standard seem more powerful. As Jean Carn, sings “Horns of love, you make my heart sing the joys. Rejoice that all the bells ring. Little B, you are my heart's delight” she brings a spirituality out of these lyrics that completely changes the meaning and feel of the track.
Doug Carn steps back for most of the album and lets the voice of his wife Jean Carn shine. She completely takes over the titular track “Infant Eyes” as her vocals soar and alternate between pop-like and operatic. Her singing sounds almost nothing like traditional jazz vocalists, instead, especially on “Infant Eyes” she sounds like an opera singer riffing over jazz. At best, this comes off as incredibly creative and interesting, at worst, the vocals feel completely out of place. Looking at a song like the closing track “peace” the vocals become so overpowering that it is virtually impossible to focus on anything else but their strength.
The clear highlight on the album is Carn’s arrangement of John Coltrane’s song “Acknowledgement.” Carn’s version of “Acknowledgement” does the original track justice, as we get blistering solos by Bob Frazier and Al Hall Jr which create an atmosphere of both spiritual worship and frenzy. Like the original recording, in Carn’s rendition, all of the performers play like they are possessed by a higher power. The respect for Coltrane’s contributions to the world can be felt in each note of the track, but Carn also puts a modern flair on the original recording venturing further into free-jazz inspired improvisation toward the latter half of the track.
Infant Eyes is a fantastic introduction to the wild world of Doug Carn and his vibrant music. On Infant Eyes, Carn was able to push spiritual-jazz forward while respecting the greats who came before him. He defined a larger-than-life sound that still influences artists all over the world today.