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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Benny Carter - Elegy in Blue

NIMBUS NI 2702 [69:24]



Did You Call Her Today? for Ben Webster
Ceora for Lee Morgan
Good Queen Bess for Johnny Hodges
Prelude to a Kiss for Duke Ellington
Little Jazz for Roy Eldridge
Blue Monk for Thelonious Monk
Someday You'll Be Sorry for Louis Armstrong
Nuages for Django Reinhardt
Undecided for Charlie Shavers
Elegy in Blue

Benny Carter (alto sax)
Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet -vocal on "Someday")
Cedar Walton (piano)
Mundell Lowe (guitar)
Ray Brown (bass)
Jeff Hamilton (drums)
rec. 1994


Benny Carter, ever immaculate, ever the articulate lyricist, was still producing the goods in 1994. Elegy in Blue carries dedications to named musicians, though in one or two cases Carter hadn’t known them personally. But in a sense that’s of little account. This is simply a highly superior session which paired Carter with ‘Sweets’ Edison and a stellar rhythm section; you often see the word used but in this case it’s true.

The fluency of his phrasing was a marvel. With Ray Brown’s big, oddly Mingus-inflected bass anchoring things in the first track Did You Call Her Today? we know we’re in for a swinging time. Ceora is a bossa nova, with delicate yet propulsive lines from Cedar Walton, some good muted Sweets and a fade out ending. Edison plays open on Good Queen Bess in which Carter’s darting, harmonically deft work is as ear catching as ever. He’s typically elastic and tonally expansive on Prelude to a Kiss where the Duke’s more oratorical aspects are celebrated. Sweets ratchets up the tension in Little Jazz, naturally a showpiece that allows him to salute but not replicate (who could? What would be the point anyway?) the powerhouse that was Roy Eldridge.

The groups just about gets the right sort of rugged sound in Blue Monk. But it’s more or less of a straight ahead blues blowing session with each member of the band retaining his own individuality, Carter notably so. One can hear the fatter tone that Edison could extract from his horn in Someday You’ll Be Sorry, doubtless in emulation of Louis. He even takes a vocal. (It’s all right.) Nuages is, unexpectedly, another bossa nova graced by a first class Mundell Lowe solo. Swinging and up-tempo the Charlie Shavers tribute, Undecided, attests to the sheer mobility of this group. Sweets alludes to Shaver’s glittering excitement; Hamilton employs his brushes with superb discretion and trades choruses with the witty Brown. Perhaps it would have been ungentlemanly of him to have done so – he was always the most sensitive of men – but it would have been splendid to have heard Carter playing trumpet on this date; he was a fine player on that instrument and the thought of Edison and Carter trading fours certainly fills me with (now unfulfilled) anticipation.

So finally there’s Elegy in Blue, the longest track and dedicated to a late friend of Carter’s. It gives the band more time to stretch out which they do with great feeling. It ends a session, originally released on MusicMasters, of consistency, variety and sheer excellence.

Jonathan Woolf

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