After more than four decades of performing in blues, rock, swing and jazz ensembles, saxophonist Roger Carroll is focusing on the adventurous music he has always loved. This Friday at Gallery 5, her new ensemble, the Sonic Liberation Ensemble, will debut new renditions of a set of songs celebrating women, rooted in the Chicago Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians scene. (AACM), a major revitalization from the 1960s to the present. modern improvisational music.
Affablely gruff and moderately larger than life, Carroll has a voice full of character, like a tidewater-washed Tom Waits. The first concept for the show was a Waits tribute set, but an ear infection prevented sufficient practice, which opened the door to exploring equally adventurous but more open arrangements. (A Waits cover is still part of the planned set list.)
“I know I should do this project, because I always wanted to do it,” Carroll says. “Especially after the political and COVID upheavals of 2020. In my career, I always played it safe, with music that people could dance to and stuff. It’s good, but I’m getting old. Now I just want to do what I want to do.
He has assembled a top-notch sextet with the adventurous rhythm section of drummer Scott Clark, bassist Adam Hopkins and pianist Michael McNeill, augmented by Rattlemouth saxophonist Danny Finney and Jouwala Collective percussionist Kevin Johnson. During an upstairs practice session at Martin Johnson’s Forinstance gallery on Cary Street, the band sketched the outlines of the songs, leaving the coloring for the actual performance.
It’s been a long road so far for Carrol, who started out as a high school student in Mechanicsville who discovered that music was a socially acceptable educational alternative to the academic routine. He attended Virginia Commonwealth University in the early years of the jazz program, then went on the road for a decade as a sideman to various blues legends.
He returned to Richmond to raise his daughter, working as an accordion repairman at Hohner and continuing to perform and record as a freelance musician. He met and married his wife, corporate lawyer Sharon Glover, and moved with her to Chicago in 2015. Carroll relished the opportunity to meet and play with longtime heroes. But things didn’t pan out there, and in 2016 Glover took a job with Capitol One in Richmond.
“We’ve been together for 15 years,” says Carrol. “Sharon is such a strong and powerful woman. Her stories over the years made me realize what BS women go through at work. And with the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, it’s not getting any better.
Hence the feminist theme of the show coming on Friday.
“It’s one of the things that attracts me [in], it’s music that has meaning,” says Carroll. “It has its roots in caring for the world. I feel it more than he hears it. I see colors. I love bebop and all that, but that kind of jazz is my real love. It’s protest music, but it has it all, the beauty and the tension.
He says music has become more important with age, adding that “music has to embrace social consciousness. We can only try to bring light into the darkness, to comfort someone or to motivate them, or whatever they need.
While this may be a different side of a familiar player, it maintains Carroll’s longstanding ability to charm an audience. For decades, most recently in regular breakout gigs at The Savory Grain and Lady N’awlins, the saxophonist has committedly delivered the songs people love to hear. This Friday is all about the songs he likes to play.
Roger Carroll’s Sonic Liberation Organization, featuring music from Pharoah Sanders, Fred Anderson, Carla Bley, Tom Waits and more, plays Gallery 5 on Friday, September 23. Doors open at 7 a.m. music at 8 p.m. Free entry.