Craft Recordings releases a stellar vinyl upgrade of a classic Benny Carter album.
Benny Carter – Jazz Giant – Stereo Records/Contemporary Records (1958)/Craft Recordings CR00384 (2022) Acoustic Sounds Series 180-gram stereo vinyl, 38:44 ****1/2:
(Benny Carter – alto saxophone, trumpet; Ben Webster – tenor saxophone; Frank Rosolino – trombone; Andre Previn – piano; Jimmie Rowles – piano; Barney Kessel – guitar; Leroy Vinnegar – double bass; Shelly Manne – drums)
Benny Carter established a unique jazz legacy. He was proficient on alto saxophone, clarinet, and trumpet. He began arranging as a newly emerging star with Fletcher Henderson. After moving to Los Angeles, Carter was in another big band with Miles Davis, Max Roach and J.J. Johnson. He became a film arranger and worked on the 1943 release, Stormy Weather. Additionally he worked as an arranger for Peggy Lee, Lena Horne and Sarah Vaughan. Carter has earned a Grammy as an instrumentalist and a lifetime achievement award. He was also recognized as an NEA Jazz Master. As a band leader he recorded for over six decades, earning numerous awards as a musician.
Craft Recordings has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of Carter’s 1958 album, Jazz Giant. Featuring a septet, he is joined by Ben Webster (tenor saxophone), Frank Rosolino (trombone), Andre Previn (piano), Jimmie Rowles (piano), Barney Kessel (guitar), Leroy Vinegar (double bass) and Shelly Manne (drums). This larger ensemble is a perfect vehicle for the extraordinary arrangement skills of Carter. Side 1 opens with a medium swing number, “Old Fashioned Love”. Carter plays lead on alto saxophone with Webster and Rosolino executing a deft response. Solos by Rosolino and Kessel show great phrasing. Webster contributes a trademark vibrato-infused run, before turning it over to a jaunty, blues-infused solo by Andre Previn. As Carter re-engages on lead, this unit is extremely cohesive and functioning seamlessly. Carter switches to trumpet, creating a slower New Orleans vibe on “I’m Coming Virginia”. The crystalline horn tonality is offset by Kessel’s loping grooves. Webster’s languid intonation adds late night shading and Kessel’s note-bending licks are compelling. A harmonious trombone /sax counterpoint is sparkling. On the Carter original, “A Walkin’ Thing”. double bassist Leroy Vinnegar’s descending line frames a melodic horn/reed statement. Carter, Webster and Kessel solo with Rosolino in the background. New pianist Jimmie Rowles glides on his solo and Carter shines on trumpet. There is an underlying vamp that connects the music.
Picking up the pace (Side 2), “Blue Lou” is uptempo with nimble punctuation. The rhythm section is dynamic. Previn is scintillating on his soulful run before Rosolino, Kessel and Carter follow suit. There is a “all-in” finish. “Ain’t She Sweet” has been a consistent staple of jazz and pop for decades. The scaled down quintet (alto, piano, double bass, guitar and drums) captures the innate energy of this song, but with more subtlety. Reprising the “first” septet, “How Can You Lose” is brilliantly arranged with lead trumpet and trombone in counterpoint. Again the various solos (especially Previn and Rosolino) are evocative and blend in with the band. The other players complement the soloist, Carter’s mellifluous turns on saxophone and trumpet are exemplary. This arrangement is reflective of the elevated musicianship in this session. The finale, “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me” employs a rousing tempo. Kessel is up first and simply percolates. Previn is equally brisk and Carter’s alto run is stellar. Vinnegar earns a well-deserved solo before the three soloists (Carter, Kessel and Previn) exchange with alacrity. Carter’s lower-register ending is memorable. Shelly Manne’s skilled drumming is the anchor to the ensemble.
Craft Recordings has done an excellent job in re-mastering (Bernie Grundman) Jazz Giant to 180-gram vinyl. There is discernible instrumental separation and the pressing (QRP) is flawless. This album is a fitting testament to a versatile jazz legend.
Side 1: Old Fashioned Love; I’m Coming Virginia; A Walkin’ Thing
Side 2: Blue Lou; Ain’t She Sweet; How Can You Lose; Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me
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