"Great stuff all round."
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 – along with several appearances from John Lewis himself, guitarist Remo Palmier, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Mel Lewis. That’s 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 Carter’s 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. There’s 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 Carter’s playing ‘sinuous’ – just the word I’ve 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 Carter’s 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 Carter’s 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 Carter’s lone bass solo, on Easy Money, Mel Lewis’s 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, it’s 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, Musicweb-international.com
"...a timely reminder of a great session from 22 years ago: it could have been recorded yesterday! "
This recording goes a long way toward explaining the very high regard his contemporaries over many decades in jazz had for Benny Carter. Although easily identifiable to those who know his work, Benny’s jazz style adapted greatly to the piece he was playing at the time. His arrangements were even more diverse in style and it would not be possible to say on listening to a particular piece, “that was a Johnny Hodges arrangement”. That said, each is the work of an inspired musical genius. It says in the sleeve notes that the musicians involved commented that the arrangements played themselves. There can be no greater compliment to an arranger than that, and I certainly found them much more enjoyable to listen to, than the work of some contemporary arrangers who go in for finger-breaking "soli" passages, with trumpets and bones playing in the stratosphere.
The musicians are of course from the top drawer of jazz and session work and they had the benefit of being together for a week, before the recording and their subsequent concerts took place. The ensemble work is clean and precise and the solos well up to the expected standard for such an august group.
These charts would be fine for the BBC Big Band’s Monday night show on Radio 2. Let’s hope they have not been lost and the enterprising producer of that show reads this review. It would make for a couple of great programmes that the BBC Band could surely handle with style.
Congratulations to the Nimbus label for a timely reminder of a great session from 22 years ago: it could have been recorded yesterday!
Don Mather, Musicweb-international.com