There's lots of life to this recording. Veteran trumpeter Warren Vache
knows a thing or two about an old friend, mentor Benny Carter
. With The Warren Vache Quintet Remembers Benny Carter
we take a step back in time even as we venture forth into the present. A present that finds cornetist Vache's style and personage slightly at odds with that goofy-looking guy with the lid shaking hands with Carter for the cover of this release. It's a remarkable transformation for someone who, during Carter's life, was enthralled by the man's spirit as well as his humanity and substantial musical contributions.
Then and now. That's what these kinds of recordings are all about, aren't they? The trick is to pull it off convincingly, which means you gotta inhabit that spirit and wonder with your whole heart and still have the means to convey it. In Vache's case, that's just what happens with this recording of 13 tunes associated with the multi-instrumental maven, whose career spanned a mind-boggling number of years and eras. To perhaps repeat, then and now is furthered along by the visual presentation of this CD. You get the younger, livelier Vache shaking hands with the master along with more recent photos which show a man weathered by the times since Carter's death in 2003 at age 95. Gone is that goofy smile of innocence, replaced by a more taciturn and wry grimace. Vache's seasoning no doubt has included some trials and disappointments in the intervening years. And that's just what seems to be so much a part of this recording: the sound of a man in love with his music and, in this case, the music of another, a more mature voice.
So, take all that in, and then listen to this music and discover a kind of transcendence that speaks to the music's ability to be ageless, Vache's formal treatments of these songs are true to the spirit of Carter's own muse and whatever Vache picked up by being associated with him. There is a joyous quality to everything here, except when "lights are low," but then it somehow remains surreptitiously buoyant. Take any tune and find a group cohesion fostered by the leader of this makeshift group and you'll hear something that's rare in today's marketplace of jazz recordings: an authentic embrace of ... then and now. With regular cohort Tardo Hammer at the keys, along with old friends and colleagues tenorist Houston Person, Nicki Parrott on bass and vocals and Leroy Williams on drums on selective cuts, the moods tend to be mellow when they aren't a tad bouncy. The transition between "Boulevard Bounce" and "Summer Serenade," for example, is the transition between that bounce featuring Vache playing a real cozy mute with tasteful brushwork from Williams to yet another example of Hammer's modest eloquence as he brings the serenade forward, Parrott's basslines and solo work simpatico all the way. "Summer Serenade" is that kind of rendition that certainly suggests what the song implies, a lazy river coursing through a nearby meadow, everything in its rightful place as the late-afternoon sun finds its way through the willows and the breezes are soft and reassuring. It's a trio piece, sans Vache, that serves as the midpoint to this collection, having followed what might be considered the overall mood of the album with "Boulevard Bounce," namely, a lighthearted party.
And so, with Remembers Benny Carter
(featuring incisive, Carter-centered liner notes from Carter biographer Ed Berger) there's the seemingly inevitable gesture that comes with age and the talent to deliver it: a bittersweet melancholy and a certain longing for what was, maybe best heard when Parrott's voice enters here and there, her feminine energy a vital ingredient here as she expands on her bassist role via a samba version of "Only Trust Your Heart" and the more rightfully easygoing "When Lights Are Low" (featuring some delicate muted-horn work from the leader). Her voice is intimate, relaxed, lilting, as she inhabits the words to these songs in ways that make her an ideal foil to Vache's sometimes more caustic yet generous spirit. A generous spirit that leaves others to carry the tune, so to speak, from time to time without him.
With the quiet eloquence of "Souvenir" Vache returns with a full-bodied open horn, cradling the song's melody in this gently delivered ballad, a certain highlight that could be adapted to any time of day, but especially when those lights are low. Tardo's piano is once again a voice that provides that rare mesmerizing balance to Vache's clear, recital-like tones. You can practically feel the love for Mr. Carter. "Rock Me To Sleep" kicks it up a notch, echoing not only Carter the trumpeter but an even earlier master of that instrument, Louis Armstrong, the song's medium-tempo swing a lure for anyone who loves to hit the dance floor anytime of day. And with "All That Jazz," Vache joining Parrott in the vocal department, we hear not only more up-tempo swinging but some real harmonizing between these two singers that makes you wish they'd done another. Ending with the up-tempo swinging blues "The Romp" may have you forgetting everything that came before, this quintet seemingly refusing to go out quietly, but instead opting for just a wee bit more fun.
Vache's horn and leadership on this date should be a welcome treat for any music lover, regardless of age or taste. His ultimate compliment to Carter could be Vache's overt presence implied as well as stated and his subdued, age-appropriate enthusiasm for this music, and his hitting every note just right even as he also allows everyone in on the party, for everyone to come celebrate the wonder that Benny Carter will always represent.
A Walking 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;
Warren Vache, cornet; Houston Person, tenor saxophone; Nicki Parrott, bass, vocals; Tardo
Hammer, piano; Leroy Williams, drums.