Benny Carter: Just Friends & The Benny Carter Centennial Project

Andrew Velez By

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Mel Martin/Benny Carter Quintet
Just Friends
Jazzed Media

Various Artists
The Benny Carter Centennial Project
Evening Star

Recorded live at Yoshi's in Oakland in April 1994, Just Friends is a celebration of the longtime musical partnership of saxophonist/flutist Mel Martin and composer/alto sax legend Benny Carter. Timed to coincide with Carter's birth centennial, this previously unreleased set features exceptional support from two other frequent Carter accompanists — Roger Kellaway (piano) and Harold Jones (drums), as well as bassist Jeff Chambers — and though Carter was in the end zone of his performing career, he is still fluid and exploratory in his playing. A particular joy is "People Time , one of two Carter tunes that are included in the set. Martin's flute flies high and easy in extended bucolic passages quietly abetted by Kellaway. The '50s chestnut "Secret Love gets a playful new life as Carter and Martin toot together companionably, Carter taking a solo that shines with the long-lined elegant beauty for which he was noted.

The Benny Carter Centennial Project, on which nearly all 15 sides are Carter tunes, is a welcome opportunity to savor Carter's large output as a composer. Along with an allstar lineup of friends and associates, the nucleus of the project is Carter's last regular working rhythm section: Chris Neville (piano), Steve La Spina (bass) and Steve Johns (drums). His rarely heard "Johnny , a complex blues gem, is beautifully delivered here by altoist Phil Woods and pianist John Coates, Jr. For contrast there's a Carter arrangement of "I'm Coming Virginia that has all the sassy wham of an updated Swing Era tune via nouveau big band with guitarist James Chirillo unexpectedly peppering in some especially tasty licks. Woods shines again with Carter's "Other Times , a masterpiece of echoing loneliness masterfully played.

Widely respected but never the star name of some of his compatriots, these two collections go a ways to (re)considering a legacy that deserves to endure.

Tracks and Personnel

Just Friends

Tracks: Perdido; People Time; Secret Love; Spritely; Elegy in Blue; Just Friends.

Personnel: Mel Martin: tenor saxophone; flute; Benny Carter: alto saxophone; Roger Kellaway; piano; Jeff Chambers: bass; Harold Jones: drums.

The Benny Carter Centennial Project

Tracks: I'm In The Mood For Swing; Johnny; I'm Coming Virginia; Again and Again; Far Away; Angeline/Where The Warm Wind Blows; Key Largo; Melancholy Lullaby; All of Me; The Blessing; Echo of My Dream; Other Times; Fable of a Fool; South Side Samba; All About You.

Personnel: Chris Neville: piano; Steve LaSpina: bass; Steve Johns: drums; Warren Vache: trumpet; Randy Sandke: trumpet; Joe Wilder: trumpet; Phil Woods: alto saxophone; Loren Schoenberg: tenor saxophone; Bill Kirchner: soprano saxophone; Russell Malone: guitar.


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