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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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BENNY CARTER

Jazz Giant

Fresh Sound FSR 2256

 

 


1. Old Fashioned Love
2. Blue Lou
3. A Walkin' Thing
4. I'm Coming, Virginia
5. How Can You Lose?
6. Ain't She Sweet?
7. Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me
8. Tiger Rag
9. Jersey Bounce

Benny Carter - Alto sax, trumpet (tracks 1-7)
Frank Rosolino - trombone (tracks 1-5, 7, 8)
Ben Webster - Tenor sax (tracks 1-5, 7, 8)
Andr‚ Previn - Piano (tracks 1, 2, 5-7)
Jimmy Rowles - Piano (tracks 3, 4, 8, 9)
Barney Kessel - Guitar
Leroy Vinnegar - Bass
Shelly Manne - Drums

 

Which alto sax player had the sweetest tone ever? I would probably have to vote for Johnny Hodges, although Willie Smith and Dave Sanborn would also be in the running. But Benny Carter would surely be a very strong contender. This album reminds us of his mellifluous tone, which was marked by its smooth, legato sound but also included Carter bending notes almost imperceptibly to add extra lyricism to an already poetic style.

As Carter's name was in big letters on the front cover, I assumed he would be strongly featured throughout the album, but other musicians get virtually as much solo space as Benny, and he is not even on the final two tracks! The original album was recorded in 1957 and 1958, with Carter absent from the last two tracks because of illness. The sessions included a line-up of top-class musicians who all deserve to be called "giants", playing at the top of their game. The other most prominent soloists are trombonist Frank Rosolino, guitarist Barney Kessel, and tenorist Ben Webster (who makes an interesting contrast with Benny Carter, since both men have mellow tones, although sounding very different from one another). On four of the tracks, the pianist is Andr‚ Previn, with the same rhythm section (Vinnegar and Manne) as played on the ground-breaking My Fair Lady album, made in 1956. Previn's solo on How Can You Lose? (one of two Carter originals on the CD) is particularly impressive. The other, equally fine, pianist is Jimmy Rowles.

Benny Carter presumably wrote the simple but cogent framing arrangements, and he finds something to say even in such an unpromising tune as Ain't She Sweet? On two tracks, Benny plays the trumpet - the instrument he actually wanted to play when he was a boy, although he switched to the saxophone because he was told it was easier to play. His trumpet style is reminiscent of Bunny Berigan in its warm melodiousness.

It is difficult to select outstanding tracks, as they are all equally good. On the opening Old Fashioned Love, Barney Kessel and Andr‚ Previn are clear-lined and it is good to hear Ben Webster's gruff tenor sax. Leroy Vinnegar lays down a suitable walking bass for A Walkin' Thing (a Carter composition) on which Frank Rosolino's double-time solo hits the spot. Tiger Rag is an unexpected treat, including dulcet trombone from Rosolino, a brief taste of Latin-American rhythm, a kicking solo from Ben Webster, and an abrupt ending. The last two numbers are led by Barney Kessel, who is superb on both tunes. The only fault with this album is that it lasts for less than an hour. It left me greedy for more.

Tony Augarde



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