September 26, 2014


Benny Carter - Montreux 77

Concert video

Welcome back for the second installment of All That Jazz.  No musician will test my resolve to keep these reviews short than today's artist, Benny Carter...but as I wrote last week, Benny is my hero, so please indulge me.  Born in 1907, Carter was a multi-instrumentalist (to this day he is considered one of the greatest alto sax players ever); pioneering composer, bandleader and arranger (both for big bands and for films and TV); quiet-but-effective civil rights leader; and one of the most admired and respected musicians of the 20th century.  Wynton Marsalis summed it up best: It's been said that a man should not be forced to live up to his art.  Benny Carter is one of the rare instances when we wonder whether the great art that a man has created can live up to him.

>After reaching the heights of fame as a jazz musician from the late 1920's through the mid-50's, in the US and Europe, Carter spent most of the next 20 years writing for the studios, playing very little in public and recording even less.  In the mid-70's (when he was close to 70) he returned to work as a full-time jazz musician and travelled the world, playing at a remarkably high level, for the next 20 years.  This album was recorded early in his "comeback." "On Green Dolphin Street" and "Three Little Words" are wonderfully representative of his playing throughout his career: improvisations that are so melodic that they seem pre-configured (until you hear him play the same tune again and realize that each chorus is wholly original and spontaneous); incredible virtuosity that is never flashy; long, flowing lines interspersed with open spaces that allow his statements to breath and flow; and a unique sense of swing that is subtle and engaging.  Benny was one of the rare musicians who played reeds and brass instruments, and here also shows off his supple and lyrical trumpet style on the first chorus of "Body and Soul" before returning later to take a turn on alto.  Ray Bryant (piano), Niels Pedersen (bass) and Jimmie Smith (drums) provide the perfect accompaniment and help make this a great example of straight-ahead jazz at the highest level.

Posted by at September 26, 2014 5:36 AM

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