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Benny Carter: Further Definitions

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The Impulse CD contains the music formerly on two LPs recorded in 1961 and 1966. They were made in recognition of the classic 1937 Paris session organized by Hugues Panassie on which Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter and two able French saxophonists were backed by a four-piece rhythm section that included Django Reinhardt and, on piano, Stephane Grappelli. For the 1961 sides, Phil Woods and Charlie Rouse replaced the French saxophonists, Dick Katz replaced Grappelli, John Collins replaced Django, Jo Jones replaced Tommy Benford, and Hawkins and Carter were reunited. “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Crazy Rhythm,” the big hits from the Paris date, were remade with creditable results. Despite the presence of Jo Jones, however, the originals had more rhythmic impact, perhaps because of the inspiring effect Django’s mere presence so often had. Twenty-four years later, the passage of time and its changes are evident enough in the tone and phrasing of Woods and Rouse, boppers both, not to mention in Carter’s. The full, robust Hawkins sound still recalls an era when jazzmen sought to be hot rather than cool.

Hawkins’ absence from the 1966 sessions somewhat diminished their value, but as in that of 1961, the sax section and the writing for it are worth close attention. When Carter wrote for a reed section and led it, the results were invariably inimitable-and superior. The musicians he headed for the last eight titles here, all Californian notables, included Bud Shank, Buddy Collette, Bill Perkins, Teddy Edwards, Bill Hood, Don Abney, Barney Kessell, Mundell Lowe, Ray Brown and Alvin Stoller. Their longer, brisker version of “Doozy,” a Carter blues, makes an interesting comparison with that by the 1961 group.

The Zoot Sims set, recorded in 1979-80, offers another attractive view of Benny Carter, as arranger and conductor, this time in a program of Ellington material and Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower,” the latter being an odd choice for a program sub-titled “Zoot Sims Plays Duke Ellington.” There is no slavish imitation here, both Sims and Carter expressing themselves with marked individuality in their interpretations. Sims at times suggests a picture of himself alongside Paul Gonsalves in the Ellington reed section. What memorable challenges and duels those two might have left us!

The big supporting band of L.A. stalwarts plays confidently. Pianist Jimmy Rowles is particularly impressive, not least in quartet performances of “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me” and “Bojangles.”