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Benny Carter and The American Jazz Orchestra Ė Central City Sketches
Benny Carter (alto saxophone, trumpet, arranger and conductor)
The American Jazz Orchestra
rec. 1987
NIMBUS NI 2716 [71:45]



Central City Sketches
Doozy (two versions)
When Lights Are Low
A Kiss From You
Lonesome Nights
Easy Money
Symphony in Riffs
Blues in my Heart


John Lewis was the musical director and chief conductor of the American Jazz Orchestra, a band expressly organised to preserve great big band music and played by musicians many who had experienced it first hand. Leafing through the personnel we encounter such names as trumpeters John Eckert and Virgil Jones, trombonists Jimmy Knepper (no solos, unfortunately, so far as I can tell) and Britt Woodman, tenor players Loren Schoenberg and Lew Tabackin, pianist Dick Katz Ė along with several appearances from John Lewis himself, guitarist Remo Palmier, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Mel Lewis. Thatís one solid, solid rhythm section. Carter had supported the AJO from its inception and in February1987 he and the band got together to play his own arrangements. This album is the result.

At its centre sits the first recording of Carterís Central City Sketches, which are surrounded by standards, many written by Carter himself. The six sketches are unpretentious, subtle and engaging. The opening, Central City Blues, is a slow tempo Kansas City number with a laid back Carter trumpet solo. As many will know he was a first class trumpet player. Thereís a wistful flute introduction (by Tabackin) to People, the third movement and this is followed by a Basie-type swinger in the shape of Promenade with its airy Dick Katz piano solo. I see that Gary Giddins, well-known critic, writer and artistic director of the AJO, calls Carterís playing Ďsinuousí Ė just the word Iíve always associated with it. Its deft, darting but superbly snake-like course is perhaps best appreciated in Remember.

But there are plenty of other delights in store. There are two versions, somewhat different, of Doozy, the number made famous in Carterís Further Definitions album. There is also another mobile, snaking Carter solo in When Lights Are Low. Virgil Jones takes a broad toned trumpet solo here as well. Those who want to experience the roller-coasting delights of Carterís sax ensemble writing should be directed to Lonesome Nights where in a long chorus one feels the sheer exhilaration of his voicing and rhythmic patterns.

Plenty of other things too; Ron Carterís lone bass solo, on Easy Money, Mel Lewisís ever tasteful drumming, the refined balladry of Souvenir, and the heavy backbeat that drives Blues in My Heart. Britt Woodman takes solo honours here, and though his playing is erratic, itís never dull. Katz of course comes in with sure touch and splendid time.


I can also recommend the interview between Carter and Giddins, which is reprinted in the extensive booklet notes. Great stuff all round.

Jonathan Woolf

Great stuff all round ... see Full Review




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