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The Warren Vaché Quintet Remembers Benny Carter – Arbors Jazz

The Warren Vaché Quintet Remembers Benny Carter – Arbors Jazz ARCD19446, 60:04 ****:

(Warren Vaché – cornet; Houston Person – tenor saxophone; Nicki Parrott – bass/vocals; Tardo Hammer – piano; Leroy Williams – drums)

Combining the compositions of the legend Benny Carter with The Warren Vaché Quintet may not necessarily guarantee a positive outcome.  However, lead by Vaché’s biting cornet, showcasing the boss big-tone of tenor saxophonist Houston Person, and supported by a stellar rhythm section, remembering Benny Carter becomes a pleasure.

The session opens with “A Walkin’ Thing” which has a blues feel despite not being in the standard twelve-bar blues form. After a walking-bass opening from Nicki Parrott, the theme is laid out with some unison playing from Vaché and Person after which they each take extended solos. The rhythm section lays down a  mid-tempo swinging groove which is in keeping with the mood. “When Lights Are Low“ is one of Carter’s most covered compositions and here it is delivered in fine vocal fashion by Nicki Parrott. There is some strong comping behind her from pianist Tardo Hammer, with Vaché using a muted horn to evoke the required affection.

Although John Huston’s noir film Key Largo with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall was released in 1948, after Benny wrote his own “Key Largo” in 1947, the tune was not used in the movie. The poignant feeling of the tune as developed by the band, is set-up by drummer Leroy Williams’ mallets and Vaché’s muted  playing. “Evening Star” was originally called “Blue Star” when Carter first recorded it in 1953, and remained under that name for one of Carter’s signature albums Further Definitions. Regardless of the name, it is given a sonorous rendition by tenor saxophonist Houston Person backed by the rhythm section all of which evoke their sense of singularity to the arrangement. The rhythm section takes over on “Summer Serenade” with Tardo Hammer demonstrating he is a superior pianist and is ably supported by Parrott’s strong bass line, and the feather light brush strokes from drummer Williams.

Nicki Parrott does the vocal honours on the bossa nova “Only Trust Your Heart” on which Person provides some fills showing his sinuous tone. Warren Vaché takes centre stage with “Souvenir” and delivers an eloquent version of the composition that explores the corners of the melody with all its earthy intricacies. The album closes with the aptly titled “The Romp”. A delightful swinging blues on which Vaché takes some risks in the upper register of his horn, Person demonstrates that he knows the cardinal principle of groove, and Hammer lays out some smart playing .

Finally, for those readers who live in or near Savannah Georgia, or who may be in the area, this band will play songs from the Benny Carter Songbook at a noon concert on March 26th, 2015 as part of the Savannah Music Festival. Be good to yourself and attend.

TrackList: A Walkin’ Thing; When Lights Are Low; Doozy; Key Largo; Evening Star; Boulevard Bounce; Summer Serenade; Only Trust Your Heart;  Souvenir; Rock Me To Sleep; I’m Sorry; All That Jazz; The Romp

—Pierre Giroux

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