The second 4 CD package culled from the Music Masters archives revives an appealing assortment of masterly live and studio performances from the early nineties. Carter was well into his eighties by the time that these recordings were made, but the jazz saxophonist's playing remained as supple, sprightly and inventive as ever.
Kevin Bryan, Halesowennews.co.uk
This second set of 4 CDs taken from the US MusicMasters Catalogue includes two studio sessions and two live concerts made between 1990 and 1995, and all produced by Ed Berger. Line-up for each record is as follows:
CD1 Benny Carter, Clark Terry, Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, Kenny Washington, Billy Hill
CD2 Benny Carter, Hank Jones, Christian McBride, Lewis Nash, Doc Cheatham, Chris Neville
CD3 Benny Carter, Chris Neville, Steve LaSpina, Sherman Ferguson
CD4 Benny Carter, Warren Vach‚, Chris Neville, Steve LaSpina, Sherman Ferguson
\With vocalists - Dianne Reeves, Carmen Bradford, Kenny Rankin, Joe Williams, Marlena Shaw, Jon Hendricks, Diana Krall, Billy Stritch, Shirley Horn, Bobby Short, Ruth Brown, Weslia Whitfield, Nancy Marano, and Peggy Lee
Benny Carter's MusicMasters catalogue turned up some fine sessions in which colleagues included Clark Terry, Hank Jones, and Doc Cheatham, among a raft of musicians - for the stellar singers, see the end of this review. The recordings, made in various locations, span the years 1990-95 and reveal the altoist seemingly unruffled by the reach of Time, still spinning some sublime and harmonically darting lines as if for the first time.
The first disc was recorded live at Princeton with Clark Terry, Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid and Kenny Washington. The programme is fairly conventional, albeit Carter had never before played Monk's Hackensack, though you'd never know. Throughout, Carter unveils his lexicon of adroit skill, and Terry's licks are bluesy, fiery and often incorrigible. Barron's richly voiced playing on Misty is a delight, and all the musicians make something personal out of Now's the Time, rather than indulging in a Parker copy. Carter sings on one track, and Billy Hill sings on three, to little effect alas. This live set generates plenty of vitality and variety.
`Legends' is the title of disc two and this one teams Carter with Doc Cheatham, Hank Jones, Christian McBride and Lewis Nash. Chris Neville joins for two quintet tracks. There are four Carter-Jones duo tracks. Except for a brief meeting, Carter and Jones had never before recorded together but together their articulacy is remarkable. No less so in its own way is Cheatham's laid back solo on Blues in My Heart and Jones's rolling and locked hands work on Honeysuckle Rose.
Carter, Chris Neville, Steve LaSpina and Sherman Ferguson form the quartet on disc three, `New York Nights - Live at the Iridium Club'. Carter's sinuous runs are as ever a highlight of this set, their angularity keeping one on the lookout for his harmonic darts. This is a more straight ahead club date, and though there are Blues and quietly Latin excursions, the temperature never quite generates a full head of steam.
The final disc is `Songbook' and here is where we meet the singers, and what singers! Dianne Reeves, Joe Williams, Jon Hendricks, Diana Krall, Shirley Horn, Bobby Short and Peggy Lee are among them. Warren Vach‚ too is on hand on some tracks to add his cornet licks. The setting is congenial, the arrangements alluring, obbligato instrumental playing is classy and the singing occasionally - inevitably, perhaps - somewhat varied in success. Williams's warm baritone is splendid. Amazing to think Cater had never met Shirley Horn before; her smoky voice and his pirouetting alto make one wish strongly they had. Time has deepened Ruth Brown's voice but she is still effective.
So, this set contains quite a variety of material - live, studio, vocal summit, elite collaborations. Sometimes the vagaries of off-mike placements obtrude but not often. The box is extremely well annotated with full personnel details and commentaries.
Jonathan Woolf., Musicweb-international.com