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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

Four Albums from the
MusicMasters Catalogue

NI 2737/40

 

 


CD 1: In the Mood for Swing
1. I'm in the Mood for Swing
2. Another Time, Another Place
3. The Courtship
4. Rock Me to Sleep
5. Janel
6. The Romp
7. Summer Serenade
8. Not So Blue
9. You, Only You
10. Blue Moonlight
11. South Side Samba

Benny Carter - Alto sax
Dizzy Gillespie - Trumpet (tracks 2, 8, 11)
Roland Hanna - Piano
George Mraz - Bass
Louie Bellson - Drums
Howard Alden - Guitar (tracks 1, 3, 6-8, 11)

Recorded NYC, 1987

This is delightful music all the way. Benny was 80 years of age at the time of this recording although that doesn't show. His style has always been consistent, melodic with interesting improvisations. All the tunes are compositions that Benny created during his long career. I'm in the Mood for Swing was written and first played in 1937 for instance, but it sounds as fresh as though it was written yesterday.

The choice of rhythm was superb. Roland Hanna, George Mraz and Louie Bellson are excellent throughout. Howard Alden fits in perfectly on guitar and Diz makes a more than useful contribution. This is my kind of music: it swings constantly in an unpretentious way and even though the tunes are new to me, I could feel the sequence throughout, adding greatly to the musical pleasure.

On Another Time, Another Place, this time a new composition written for the album, Dizzy joins in and muted throughout adds another dimension to the ensemble. The Courtship dates to 1976 and a Pablo album Carter Gillespie Inc. Rock Me to Sleep was recorded as a vocal by Helen Humes, Peggy Lee, June Christy and Dakota Staton. Roland Hanna is superb on this track.

Janel was a new Carter ballad for the album. There is a fine solo from Howard Alden on this track The Romp is just that. Everyone romps through a 16-bar blues sequence and listening to it, you get the feeling that everyone is enjoying themselves!

Summer Serenade is a bossa nova that Benny wrote for his 1980 Storyville album. Not So Blue has a 12-bar structure, but Benny insists that everything that has 12 bars is not the blues. Dizzy again muted joins in with another interesting contribution, but the stars of this track for me are Mraz and Hanna.

You, Only You is a jazz waltz, a style Benny has been associated with for many years. Benny was playing the jazz waltz in 1936 at a time when most people thought it was impossible to swing in _ time. Blue Moonlight is taken at a medium tempo; once again there are fine solos all round. It has more than a slice of Slow Boat to China about it!

I can't let this review pass without mentioning Louie Bellson, one of the all-time great drummers. He was equally at home with this small group as he was swinging the Duke Ellington band.

South Side Samba was written ten years before this recording. It is a calypso-style piece in which everyone is involved. It really takes off and is one of the best tracks on an album that does not have a poor one.


CD 2: Over the Rainbow
1. Over the Rainbow
2. Out of Nowhere
3. Straight Talk
4. The Gal from Atlanta
5. The Pawnbroker
6. Easy Money
7. Ain't Misbehavin'
8. Blues for Lucky Lovers

Benny Carter, Herb Geller - Alto saxes
Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess - Tenor saxes
Joe Temperley - Baritone sax
Richard Wyands - Piano
Milt Hinton - Bass
Ronnie Bedford - Drums

When I saw the line-up for this disc, I could not wait to hear it. All the saxophone players are favourites of mine and to hear them playing Benny Carter's writings as well as their exquisite solos, was bound to be a treat. I have not been disappointed.

Over the Rainbow has always been a great tune and Benny's arrangement for the ensemble is a joy to listen to: these guys play so well in a section. Benny states the theme on Out of Nowhere, everyone solos eloquently and then the ensemble takes us out in real style.

Straight Talk has an opening ensemble, solos from Wess, Carter, Heath, Wyands, Temperley and Geller, and a final ensemble. This was a new blues written for the occasion by Benny. The Gal From Atlanta has a different ensemble arrangement at the head and the foot: the latter really drives along. The tune is a Benny Carter original. There are overtones of Sweet Georgia Brown here!

The Pawnbroker was written by Quincy Jones; it was the theme for the film of the same name. This is a feature for excellent pianist Richard Wyands, but again there is some lovely voicing in the ensembles. Easy Money has been featured by Benny on a number of his albums; it is a jaunty tune that swings from the word go. Richard Wyands leads the way with a great intro. Carter plays the bridge and Geller plays the first solo followed by Wess, Temperley and then Heath. Carter and Wyands follow on, after which the saxes play some interesting riffs with fills by Hinton and Wyands.

Ain't Misbehavin' is the Fats Waller classic. Benny Carter really pulled out the stops with this arrangement, to give the whole thing a nice fresh feel. It appears that Carter has only recorded the tune once before in his long career and that time he was playing trumpet! Lucky Lovers is an up-tempo Carter original first recorded in 1985. Solos all round on this one, each one as interesting as the other. Wyands once again leads the way with a bright introduction.

Benny Carter was one of the truly great jazzmen, his very long career being full of fine solos, interesting compositions, all delivered with an amazing authority. This record is a must for the serious jazz listener: the sax ensembles are beautifully played and every one of the soloists is in top form.


CD 3: Cookin' at Carlos I
1. You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to
2. All the Things You Are
3. Key Largo
4. Just Friends
5. My Romance
6. 'S Wonderful
7. Time for the Blues

Benny Carter - Alto sax, trumpet
Richard Wyands - Piano
Lisle Atkinson - Bass
Al Harewood - Drums

Recorded live at Carlos 1 in New York, October 1988

This was Carter's first live recording. He had of course recorded many times but not in a jazz club with just a rhythm section for support. This is a very good rhythm section by the way that most front-line men would be pleased to play with.

Track one takes off at quite a lick, with one of my favourite tunes from Cole Porter. It is not the easiest of sequences, but you would not think that the way Benny plays it and he is well supported by the rhythm section in which Richard Wyands is outstanding. All the Things You Are is much more logical, and a hardy perennial with jazz players. The third track is one of Benny's many tunes: this one he has only recorded once before, although it has been recorded by other artists. It is taken with a gentle Latin beat and is a very pleasant melody.

As the album progresses you realise that it is not only the pianist that offers superb support. Bassist Lisle Atkinson has a nice warm sound, having worked with the likes of Wynton Kelly, Betty Carter, Howard McGhee and many others. Drummer Al Harewood was with Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson in the 50s and even survived the Stan Getz band in the 60s. By all accounts Stan was not an easy man to work with for drummers!

Just Friends is a tune that has stayed in the jazz repertoire for many years and proves to be an effective jazz vehicle for this combo, who continue to swing on happily. This third album is the most relaxed of the four and it demonstrates Carter's timeless ability to create interesting melodic lines on any sequence.

My Romance is a beautiful tune by Richard Rodgers. To my mind it is not heard often enough, The quartet meander their way gently through this one for some ten minutes, without seemingly any effort at all. S'Wonderful has been played by everybody at some time or another but, by this time in the album, you know that this version is going to feature everybody to advantage.

Just to add another twist to this tale, Benny plays trumpet on Time for the Blues. It was an instrument he played frequently in earlier parts of his career, but rarely more recently. His tone and blues feel show that he still has plenty to say on what he described as his favourite instrument!

This is an interesting album because it has put down for posterity something Benny often did, but had not previously recorded, his playing with a jazz quartet.


CD 4: My Man Benny - My Man Phil
1. Reet's Neet
2. Just a Mood (II)
3. Sultry Serenade
4. We Were in Love
5. My Man Benny
6. My Man Phil
7. Just a Mood (I)
8. M.A. Blues
9. People Time
10. I'm Just Wild about Harry

Benny Carter - Alto sax, trumpet, vocals
Phil Woods - Alto sax, clarinet
Chris Neville - Piano
George Mraz - Bass
Kenny Washington - Drums

Recorded NYC, November 1989

This combination had to be a winner. Both saxophone players are very highly rated but with totally different styles, Benny rooted in swing and Phil a bebop player of high repute who followed the Charlie Parker direction, but added something of his own along the way. By all accounts they had great respect for one another's playing and it shows in the way they play together; the tones and volume levels are perfectly matched.

All but two of the tunes were written by Benny or Phil; they were composed and arranged to suit and compliment their unique jazz skills. One of the exceptions is Tyree Glenn's Sultry Serenade, the ensemble of which is beautifully played and followed by outstanding solos from each man in turn. As on the previous recording, the rhythm is of the very best, with superb comping by the pianist and a bass player and drummer who understand their roles perfectly.

We Were in Love has Benny on trumpet and Phil on clarinet. Both musicians play in a style reminiscent of earlier jazz ensembles, but the effect is dazzling and the essence of real jazz. Apparently Phil remarked "who would get this one on a blindfold test!" My Man Benny is a composition of Phil Woods and his arrangement for the two-alto front line is superb. Many feel there is little you can do with two-part harmonies, but anyone who thinks that is true should listen to this or for that matter the Gerry Mulligan quartet! This track is followed by its mirror image, My Man Phil written by Benny Carter, but this one is a feature for Phil, and Benny decided to just sing on the track. Phil is on great form and starts with a gliss that just does not seem possible! On the end of the second vocal Phil plays an amazing coda.

M.A. Blues stands for Mutual Admiration Blues and there is much to admire in the blues playing of both men as well as the supporting rhythm section. The lovely rounded notes of George Mraz are not to be missed.

People Time is a Benny Carter ballad premiered in 1987. Phil plays the theme and Benny is heard on trumpet in the second chorus, the theme has a haunting quality. I'm Just Wild about Harry is a very well known tune, but it is not very often heard as a jazz vehicle. In the hands of these experts however it swings like mad. Phil really tears it up as only he can on this one!

Listening to these four albums has been a great pleasure and I congratulate Nimbus on this release. The music is top-class throughout, the presentation of the records excellent and the sleeve notes by Ed Berger comprehensive and most informative.

Don Mather

See also review by Tony Augarde



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