ANDREW GILBERT: JAZZ TALK
Benny Carter's musical legacy continues in the 21st century
Contra Costa Times
Alto saxophonist Benny Carter would have been 100 years old on Aug. 8. With a career spanning almost the entire hitory of jazz, Carter almost made it, passing away in 2003 at the age of 95. Mel Martin, the powerhouse Bay Area saxophonist who considers himself blessed to have counted Carter as a friend, wants to make sure the occasion doesn't go unnoticed. He's organized a series of concerts with the Benny Carter Centennial Tribute Band, which performs at Yoshi's on Aug. 15, featuring the prodigious pianist Roger Kellaway, Cal Tjader bassist Robb Fisher, drummer Winard Harper, vocalist Jackie Ryan, and saxophonists Harvey Wainapel, Charles McNeil, and Andrew Speight, who as an aspiring teenage musician growing up in Australia formed a tight bond with Carter.
"I wrote him a letter when I was about 15 and he wrote back in his beautiful handwriting and told me about the classical violin books he had studied from," Speight said. "That's how our friendship started. I met him in 1987 and we had a chance hang out, and after that I often stayed with him and his wife at their house in Beverly Hills. He was an incredible man. When they talk about Duke Ellington, Benny's of the same caliber. He was way bigger than just the saxophone."
It's difficult to sum up the vast range of Carter's contributions. He helped create jazz's orchestral language with his arrangements for Fletcher Henderson's seminal big band. Along with Johnny Hodges, he pioneered the use of the alto saxophone in jazz (with a style that sounds as sophisticated today as it did in the 1930s). Carter went on to become one of the swing era's finest trumpeters. He was a creative force for so long that he ended up absorbing influences from musicians who were originally schooled on his innovations, like bebop progenitor Charlie Parker. But by the 1990s, Carter often seemed overlooked, except by his musical peers, who had long ago crowned him King Carter.
"In my opinion Benny Carter is the most underrated musician of the 20th century," said Martin, who recently released "Just Friends" (Jazzed Media), a lovely live album he recorded with Carter at Yoshi's in 1994. "It's controversial to say this, but he was as good a composer as Ellington and Strayhorn. He was a great trumpeter. He recorded with Billie Holiday on clarinet. Stan Getz did one thing great. He played a beautiful tenor sax, and you could focus on him and his sound. Benny did so many things at such a high level, and he was always highly regarded, but that isn't the same as being really famous with audiences."
One reason Carter isn't better known in the mass media is that he was notoriously reluctant to give interviews, and when he did sit down with a journalist, he was elusive and taciturn. His friends describe him as a funny and warm raconteur, but after cooperating with Morroe Berger, Edward Berger and James Patrick on a magisterial 1,360-page biography, Carter seemed to feel he had said his piece. I interviewed him a couple of times in the mid-'90s, and while he was unfailingly polite, he quickly made it clear that he only wanted to discuss his most recent album. "I've discontinued doing interviews because I've pretty much said all that I have to say," Carter said. "At my age, or at this stage, or whatever you want to call it, time is pretty much my most precious commodity."
Carter was also a pioneering social figure who opened many doors for African-Americans. He was one of the first black arrangers and composers to work in the Hollywood studios. And he played an important role in the amalgamation in Los Angeles of the black Musicians Union 767 with white Local 47.
"Benny opened the eyes of a lot of producers and studios, so that they could understand that you could go to blacks for things outside of blues and barbecue," said Quincy Jones in the Bruce Ricker documentary "Benny Carter: Symphony in Riffs," which was recently reissued on DVD by Rhapsody Films. "He made it possible for that doubt to be taken away."
Details: The tribute shows are 8 and 10 p.m. Aug. 15 at Yoshi's, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland. Tickets are $12 (late show) to $20. Contact 510-238-9200 or http://www.yoshis.com.
Benny Carter's 100 Years Of Music
By RICHARD S. GINELL
(Hollywood Bowl, 17,376 seats, $93 top) Presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. Reviewed Aug. 8, 2007.
Performers: James Moody; Roy Hargrove; Marlena Shaw; Russell Malone; Roberta Gambarini; Mel Martin; Eldar; Gerald Clayton; Benny Carter Trio featuring Chris Neville, Steve Johns and Steve LaSpina; Benny Carter Sax Ensemble featuring Mel Martin, Jeff Clayton, Keith Fiddmont, Rickey Woodard and Lee Callet; Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra conducted by John Clayton and Quincy Jones. Emcee: Quincy Jones.
On Aug. 8, the protean musician Benny Carter would have been 100 years old. Apparently, he intended to be around for that day but fell short by five years. The Hollywood Bowl nevertheless went ahead with a centennial tribute, which fortuitously happened to fall on a Wednesday night, the traditional jazz night here. The lineup was star-studded and high-minded, and the musicmaking was often superb.
Carter remains an enigma to the general public; his abilities and range were so vast, extending over such an awe-inspiring span of time, that it is difficult to get a bead on exactly where his place in jazz is. Aside from biographer Ed Berger's cogent summary of Carter's career in the printed program and a too-little-too-late video montage near the end, this scattershot concert barely even tried.
Carter was still going strong at his 90th birthday party at the Bowl in 1997, playing alto sax brilliantly with amazing freshness. One wonders whether a tape from that concert exists -- if so, it should have been played -- but lacking that, a new release by the Mel Martin/Benny Carter Quintet live at Yoshi's from 1994 (Jazzed Media) proves how durable he remained in the 1990s.
Quincy Jones emceed virtually the entire concert, his words melting like honey, spinning fascinating anecdotes left and right, yet never quite managing to put Carter's career into focus. But we did have the rare, welcome, latter-day opportunity of watching Q lead a big band, the crack Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, in his early, robust "Stockholm Suite."
Many songs and arrangements -- no doubt by Carter -- went unidentified in the first half, although that gap was rectified in the second half. This is important, for Carter's contributions to the Great American Songbook are not as well publicized as others. "When Lights Are Low" -- probably his most famous tune -- was name-checked, and it received a confident, swinging, beautifully scatted performance from one of Carter's last and most talented protegees, Roberta Gambarini.
The CHJO and Carter's last piano trio alternated as expert anchors for almost all of the program. Martin himself was present, playing fluid tenor and soprano saxes and participating in a sax quintet that precisely performed two excerpts from Carter's "Further Dimensions" album. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove was in a mostly subdued mood in most of his solos; guitarist Russell Malone made liquid unaccompanied work of "All About You"; James Moody continues to create subtle, swinging tenor bop lines at 82. Jeff Clayton's swooping sounds on alto sax were actually closer in spirit to those of another jazz alto titan whose own centennial was observed two weeks ago, Johnny Hodges.
The grand finale, a selection from an album that Carter wrote for Count Basie's band, "Kansas City Suite," found the CHJO doing an uncanny impression of the Basie sound via Carter's hand. He was a consummate craftsman, a gentleman supreme to all who knew him -- yet Carter's versatility and adaptability may explain why his image isn't as clear to us as those of other major jazzmen of his stature.
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Mel Martin/ Benny Carter Quintet
By Mark Keresman
Published: August 8, 2007
Know it or not, longtime Bay Area musicheads have likely heard tenor saxophonist Mel Martin — aside from leading Bebop & Beyond, he's played with Cold Blood, Santana, the Escovedo family, and assorted other homies. If you're a hardcore jazz fan, you've likely heard the legendary Benny Carter, as an alto saxophonist, arranger, composer, and/or conductor who, aside from leading small and large combos, has played with Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others. Here, these longtime buds go to town on standards and originals, recorded live in 1994 at Yoshi's original location. Backed by a world-class trio featuring pianist Roger Kellaway (that's him on the closing theme to All in the Family), Carter and Martin make a fascinating match. Carter's alto is supple, old-school elegant, unpredictably fluid; Martin's tenor is slightly breathy, big-toned, luxuriant, and blues-drenched — to hear them intertwine is riveting. Other high points include Kellaway's jolly dissonant jabs on the charging "Perdido," and if extraterrestrials landed near your dwelling and asked, "What is this thing you humans call a 'jazz ballad?" you'd play them "People Time," which features Martin's achingly beautiful, meditative flute. Released this year to commemorate the late Carter's centennial, Friends is darn near everything a jazz disc ought to be.
Talent-packed Bowl tribute to Benny Carter
By Don Heckman
August 10, 2007
The Benny Carter tribute Wednesday at the Hollywood Bowl couldn't have come on a more appropriate date: the 100th anniversary of the birth of the iconic, multiskilled artist who died in 2003. So it wasn't surprising that Carter's creative imagination -- a vital element through nearly eight decades -- was a constant presence in the long and varied program.
The event-packed evening, hosted by Quincy Jones, featured a diverse group of performers. The piano bench, for example, was claimed -- at different times -- by Tamir Hendelman, Gerald Clayton, Eldar and Chris Neville. The saxophone spotlight embraced James Moody, Mel Martin, Jeff Clayton and most of the sax section of the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. And vocals were provided by Roberta Gambarini, Marlena Shaw and -- too briefly -- the ever-whimsical Moody.
Add the engaging guitar work of Russell Malone, the articulate trumpet playing of Roy Hargrove and the power and glory of the CHJO, and there was enough firepower on stage to trigger a pyrotechnic display of music written, arranged and inspired by Carter.
For the most part, it was a display to remember. Instrumentally, the CHJO' s rendering of "Symphony in Riffs," "Coalition" and -- as a climax -- the Carter-through-Count Basie "Vine Street Rumble" captured the craftsmanship and the swing characteristic of Carter's big-band scoring. Curiously, on the one number that featured an extended alto sax solo -- "Souvenir" -- Jeff Clayton elected to play in a manner rich with the melodic bends and sliding glissandos typical of Johnny Hodges, whose playing in the '30s and '40s was both the counter and the competition to the more crisp, tonally centered Carter style.
Gambarini's versions of two memorable Carter ballads -- "When Lights Are Low" and "Only Trust Your Heart" -- were other high points of the evening. Blessed with superb musicality and a seemingly intuitive grasp of jazz vocal elements tracing back to Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, Gambarini captured the songs' subtle interplay of words and music.
Other highlights included the brisk improvisational exchange between Moody and Hargrove on "Courtship," Malone's captivating take on "All About You," Eldar's partnership with Malone on "Melancholy Ballad" and the sturdy saxophone work of Martin with the Benny Carter Trio and the Benny Carter Sax Ensemble. Shaw's off-putting version of "Here's to Life" was both an odd choice and an eccentric interpretation. Matters improved with her reading of Carter's "Brothers Under the Skin."
All in all it was a much deserved tribute, and the best moments came with the brief film clips of Carter -- virtuosic on both alto saxophone and trumpet -- in action.
Mel Martin/Benny Carter Quintet - Just Friends - Jazzed Media
A welcome reprise of more Mel Martin and the master, Benny Carter
Mel Martin/Benny Carter Quintet - Just Friends - Jazzed Media JM 1025, 62:53 (1994) *****:
(Mel Martin, tenor sax and flute; Benny Carter, alto sax; Roger Kellaway, piano; Jeff Chambers, bass; Harold Jones, drums)
A big Thank You has to go out to Jazzed Media's Graham Carter for finding more session material from Mel Martin and Benny Carter's live 1994 sessions at the SF Bay Area's premiere jazz club, Yoshi's. That 1994 meeting was documented in an Enja 1994 release, Mel Martin Plays Benny Carter. In honor of the centennial celebration of Benny Carter in 2007, we have the good fortune of having more tracks from the Yoshi's concerts brought to us a jazz public service by Jazzed Media, who once again keep their impeccable streak of brilliant releases by our jazz masters alive. Martin has been a Carter devotee for years and since Carter passed away in 2003, Mel has kept Carter's flame lit. It is hard to believe that Carter was 87 when these tracks were recorded.
The proceedings get off to a roaring start with Juan Tizol's Perdido. Martin has a blistering solo and Benny shows he was still on his game. You can count on one hand anyone who still had their tone and swing like Carter did at age 87. Kellaway is a perfect complement to the two reedmen and has a swinging solo with great blues feel.
After Perdido, each track is at least ten minutes long and the musicians really have room to stretch out with their solos. Martin's ethereal solo flute highlights People Time with great comping by Kellaway. You could imagine Benny soaking in Mel's interpretation like a proud father. Secret Love blends Martin and Carter and their respect for each other is brought out in full force.
Spritely features Mel with the trio only and Chambers and Kellaway are given room to shine. One of my all time favorite Carter compositions - Elegy in Blue - follows, and again, the two horns blend as one. Carter gets full solo time and his mournful melody, written as a tribute to a close Japanese friend's passing, is moving. Our re-visit with Mel, Benny and company ends with Just Friends, and you can feel the love and empathy between the master and Bebop and Beyond's group leader, Mel Martin. If you own the Enja Martin/Carter '94 release, this new addition to that session is a "must have" and a Carter Centennial requirement purchase. Let's just be a bit greedy and hope that there is more unreleased Benny Carter material out there. Graham, the next move is yours.
TrackList: Perdido, People Time, Secret Love, Spritely, Elegy in Blue, Just Friends
- Jeff Krow
Copyright 2007 Audiophile Audition
Thoroughly Modern Benny
BY WILL FRIEDWALD
July 30, 2007
Benny Carter's contribution to jazz is inestimable. Except for the bit about taking drugs and dying young, the alto saxophonist lived every part of the jazz experience. He was one of the all-time masters of his instrument — not to mention one of the first saxophone virtuosos in jazz — and he played half a dozen other instruments brilliantly as well. He was a marvelous arranger and that rare jazz composer of his generation whose works continue to be played into the modern era. He spent years on the road, and was one of the first black musicians to go international; he later spent decades toiling in the film and recording studios, where he also opened up new doors for jazz musicians of every color.
But he was defined by the music. When Carter put together an album — writing most of the tunes and all of the charts, and handpicking the soloists to play them — the results were inevitably brilliant. Give me the 1961 "Further Definitions" on my iPod and I will happily relocate to the desert island of your choice.
Those of us who knew Benny were certain that he would live to play and write new music in his 100th year; that he died four years short of that in 2003 is one of the only disappointments of his career. We can hardly complain, because he never stopped creating, and was active right to the end. Now, to mark his centennial, two new albums have been issued (and other events are being planned for the fall) to give listeners the highly comforting feeling that Benny Carter is still making music.
Fittingly, of the two new releases, one features Carter mostly as a player and the other mostly as a composer. "Just Friends," is a previously unissued live performance from 1994, co-starring the tenor saxophonist Mel Martin; "The Benny Carter Centennial Project" is a compendium of Carter compositions newly recorded for the occasion.
The former, recorded at Yoshi's at San Francisco, offers a generous sampling of Carter's improvisations, withthetwosaxesstretching out luxuriously on all of six tunes, including two Carter compositions. Carter was, above all, a brilliant saxophonist, with a tone like no other, sweet and pungent, with a distinct vibrato and an unmistakable way of bending the edges of a note to give them a more vocalized sound. His solos, as becomes especially clear on the standards "Secret Love" and "Just Friends," flow so logically from one point to the next that they're almost the musical equivalent of a crossword puzzle. His partner in this enterprise, the Californiabased Mr. Martin (who demonstrated his allegiance to Benny with an album of Carter compositions 10 years ago), contributes his most sterling moment with an appropriately eloquent flute solo on one of Carter's last great tunes, "People Time," a stunning ballad that gave Stan Getz one of his best late-career moments.
The "Centennial Project" is the work of Ed Berger, of the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, who is the son of Carter's friend and biographer, Morroe Berger. It primarily features musicians who worked with Carter through the years, from the veteran big band trumpeter Joe Wilder to bop star Phil Woods (who helped make "Further Definitions" a classic), to a roster of contemporary swing-oriented soloists in their 40s and 50s. Amazingly, although the players span a range of generations, instruments, and styles, everything here sounds so much like Carter's music that it's easy to picture him playing on every track.
The disc opens with a pair of outstanding trumpeters, Warren Vaché and Randy Sandke, taking the title of Carter's "I'm in the Mood for Swing" rather literally in a two-trumpet team-up. Later, each gets a solo, with Mr. Sandke playing especially warmly on the lesser-known ballad "Again and Again." Mr. Vache gets the more exotic "Key Largo," which he delivers with both a mute and characteristic grace while drummer Steve Little imbues the piece with a sultry feel. A few tracks later, Carter's 85-year-old colleague, Joe Wilder, plays "The Blessing" with both a flair and a restraint that are almost classical.
Mr. Woods plays two duets with the pianist John Coates, while Bill Kirchner updates the swing era theme "Melancholy Lullaby" on soprano saxophone. Tenorist Loren Schoenberg tackles a medley of two lesser-known Carter tunes, "Angeline" and "Where the Warm Winds Blow," that sound especially modern (and not just for a composer born at the turn of the last century). Both the playing and the tunes sound like they could be modal waltzes by Wayne Shorter, and though Messrs. Woods, Kirchner, and Schoenberg sound nothing like one another, they all sound a little bit like Carter when playing his music.
In Carter's legacy, however, solo saxophones are hardly the whole point. Carter was a pioneer of the jazz sax on at least two levels — both as one of the first soloists and as one of the first and greatest writers for the saxophone section (behind only Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn).
"I'm Coming Virginia," for four saxes and rhythm, is an elaboration on an arrangement that Carter recorded in Paris in 1938 with a largely French band (finding room for a solo by guitarist Django Reinhardt). It's classically Carterian in the smoothness of the blend and in the agility in which he arranged for the two altos and two tenors to play melodic variations that sound like a single monster horn — Carter x 4.
The other saxophone ensemble work, a further variation on a prehistoric standard, "All of Me," is quite different: Carter began by adding a fifth sax, a baritone, which begins the piece, rather than having the five saxes play in a seamless blend. At first they're all over the place and each other, yet Carter was controlled even at his most chaotic, and when the quintet all comes together, the blend is glorious.
Mr. Berger would be the last to trumpet the "Project" as a definitive work; rather he seems to have deliberately left off many of Carter's most famous pieces (i.e., "When Lights Are Low," which has been recorded hundreds of times, and "People Time") in favor of neglected works. The CD closes with Carter's last recording, a piano solo on an apparently new tune titled "All About You," recorded in 2001 when the composer was 94. Now released for the first time, it is here preceded by a new guitar solo from Russell Malone (who phrases it somewhat like Eddie Lang's 1927 waltz "April Kisses"). In both statements, the piece is beautiful, sweet, and simple — a perfect coda for the career of an understated jazz giant.
Carter appears on three tracks on Martin's debut album. The tenor and soprano saxophonist and flutist has previously recorded with Bebop and Beyond, a San Francisco-based group he leads. These include pianist Roger Kellaway, bassist Jeff Chambers and former Basie band drummer Harold Jones and were recorded live at Yoshi's in Oakland. The six other cuts on the album feature Martin with an East Coast trio comprised of pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Victor Lewis.
Martin applies his blistering Bebop chops to most of these Carter tunes, although on "Souvenir," a lovely quartet performance, his tenor speaks in romantic, sculptured phrases reminiscent of Carter's alto. Martin brings out the upbeat, naturally fluent melodic quality in Carter's writing throughout this album. Tunes include"A Kiss From You,""Hello,""Zanzibar" (wonderful exotica here), "Only Trust Your Heart" and others. Carter is in typically classy form on the live tracks.
MEL MARTIN PLAYS BENNY CARTER
Regular readers of the Saxophone Journal may recognize Mel Martin's name from his frequent contributions to this magazine. An articulate and knowledgeable writer, Martin demonstrates on this superb recording that he can play as well as any saxophonist on the scene today. He plays with a rich, gorgeous tone that stands out from the crowd. Mr. Martin displays a dazzling technique and an awesome command of jazz harmony. This is a recording that every jazz lover should go out and get today!
One of the most glaring inadequacies I find in many young jazz musicians is their obvious ignorance of the playing of jazz musicians prior to the 1950s, Although the majority of jazz recordings have been made since 1950, there are a lot of great recordings that were made during the 20s, 30s, and 40s. One needs to dig a little to find them, but the search is definitely worth tile effort. It's great to listen to your favorite contemporary saxophonists, heaven knows there are certainly a lot of great players on the scene. But if you really want to get the big picture you need to go back and listen to the players who influenced and inspired them.
One of the great saxophonists who has influenced just about everyone is Benny Carter. Eighty-eight years young when the cuts with him were recorded (1994), Benny Carter's career spans the entire history of recorded jazz. He is truly a jazz legend who continues to excite and inspire everyone fortunate enough to hear him perform. In this CDs i-card, Met Martin says, "I've learned a lot by playing beside him. I've learned what it's like to phrase, to bend tones, to use vibrato, to play with a certain pitch and tonal consistency, and certain articulations, and he's played through all the styles-swing, Bebop, cool, west coast but he's still instantly identifiable."
In addition to being a great saxophonist, as well as a trumpeter, Benny Carter is a very important composer. All of the tunes on this recording are Benny Carter compositions: A Kiss From You, Hello, Zanzibar,When Lights Are Low, Summer Serenade, Souvenir, Another Time, Another Place, Wonderland, and Only Trust Your Heart. His tunes are consistently beautiful. They are deceptively simple sounding, but each one has a moment of magic where the song takes a direction that you can't hear coming. Musicians, and not just jazz musicians, have been attracted to his compositions for many decades, and this recording shows why this is so.
Benny Carter plays on three selections (Hello, Zanzibar, andOnly Trust Your Heart), which were recorded live at Yoshi's Nitespot in Oakland, California. They feature Roger Kellaway on piano, Jeff Chambers on bass, and Harold Jones on drums. The other cuts were recorded at the legendary Rudy Van Gelder studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. This "east coast" rhythm section features Kenny Baron on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums. Both units perform flawlessly and make many contributions to this superb recording. Very few saxophonists ever get to play with even one rhythm section of this caliber. On this recording Mel Martin gets to play with two incredible rhythm sections. Life just isn't fair!
Mel Martin plays tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, and flute on this recording. His approach to playing each of these instruments is unique; he doesn't sound like anyone else. This is but one reason that I recommend this recording to all jazz lovers. It features world-class jazz musicians playing great tunes written by, with several of them performed by, a true jazz legend. Who could ask for anything more?
Mel Martin and Bebop and Beyond
FRIENDS AND MENTORS - Quixotic Records, 5006. www.me1martin.com. P.O. Box 2758, Novato, CA 94948-1114. Phone: (415) 892-5911. Fax: (415) 893-1114. Song for M.; Music Is (Benny Carter); Whizbang; For Duke and Mingus; Riding with C; In Walked Diz; Longhorn; From Pops to Bop; Hub-Trane.
PERSONNEL: Mel Martin, tenor and soprano saxophone; Bobby Watson, alto sax. Jack Walrath, trumpet. Mike Longo, piano. George Cables, piano. Ray Drummond, bass. Winard Harper, drums. Billy Hart, drums.
By Marco Pignataro
From the eclectic mind of the distinguished saxophonist Mel Martin, Bebop and Beyond's latest recording stands strong as one of Mel's finest contributions to contemporary jazz. After several acclaimed tribute albums to jazz icons such as Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter and Thelonious Monk, the 58-year young Bay Area band leader migrates east this time, to assemble the new line up for his band Bebop and Beyond. With a stellar group of New York jazz luminaries, Mel reorganizes his personal library with older and newer material and records a burning CD of his own compositions. This album, entitled, Friends and Mentors, has been playing in my CD player for the last four weeks and I can still find something new that I like about it every time I listen to it. It is just that good. I should praise Mr. Martin's intuition first, as his choice of musicians could not have been more suitable for this project. In particular, the soloist voices of Bobby Watson, on alto sax, and Jack Walrath, on trumpet, seem to perfectly fit Mel's own tenor and soprano sax, by offering alternate directions which masterfully complement his conception. The contrast between Mel's earthy delivery, Watson's liquid sound and phrasing and Walrath's explosive impetuosity suggests, as a musical analogy, the perfect balance of the natural elements of earth, water and fire. The rhythmic section brings the typical New York sound and intensity of the best hard bop/post bop "big-timers league," with the fabulous George Cables and Mike Longo alternating on piano, Billy Hart and Winard Harper on drums, and the rock solid Ray Drummond on bass. These musicians represent modern jazz at its core.
Martin's astute musicianship extends way beyond his instrumental ease; in fact, far from being a platform for indulgent soloists' showcase, Friends and Mentors features a handful of composition gems, arranged to perfection almost as a manual for the modern arranger. Martin doesn't spare any device from his book, enriching every tune with through-composed melodies, interludes, extended sections, shout choruses and a crafty attention to every single little detail of dynamic, articulation and group interaction. Check out a track like "Song for M" for instance. Its urban, bouncing melody is shifted from the tenor to the alto saxophones on the A sections and voiced for the three horns on the B section with the harmony moving up in minor thirds and recapitulating on the last A section after a clever whole tone root movement turn-around. The tenor starts the first solo on a 16 bar transition section as the band details a propulsive rhythmic background, which will recur after every solo. The horns and piano take turns soloing over the form with an impeccable gist, until an extended big band-like shout chorus engages the band before the melody reappears. Similarly, the tune "Music Is," dedicated to Benny Carter but loosely reminiscent of a Benny Golson like melody, surprises the listener by dropping the rhythmic section soon after the solos and delineating a tasty contrapuntal section between the horns.
Generally speaking, the harmonies of Mel's tunes are tailored after the compositional blueprints from the finest tradition of modern jazz, ranging from hard bop to neo bop reharmonization techniques, such as chromatic substitutions and the use of tonal/modal interrelated textures. The whole sonority of the group brings frequently to mind a group like the Jazz Messengers, but radically revisited to a more contemporary taste. The songs "Whizbang," "Riding with C" and "Longhorn" are a good example to this. "Whizbang's" melody and arrangement in particular, seems inspired by the famous version of "Nica's Dream" (with Hank Mobley on tenor), but with a burning post/bop drive to it. Bobby Watson, himself a veteran of the late Art Blakey group, takes the first solo and breezes over the changes with his distinctively inside/outside floating approach. However, Mel truly raises the blood pressure here, with a blasting saxophone break into his solo, which he gradually develops with a maelstrom of interconnected sequences and pulsating phrases of increasing tension. My other favorite solo of Martin is on the song "Hub-Trane" where he is able to reach an even greater intensity and drama, this time on his inspired soprano sax. This angular tune lends itself to exploration and disquieting delivery. Its harmonic "tessitura" intercalates a linear vamping modality with disguised tonal cadences between sections, contrasting bright/dark contours of emotional, brooding pathos. Gradually, the trumpet, alto, soprano solos sequence builds up the momentum until its climax gets so intense that you want to scream. Hart's drumming is a poly-rhythmic explosion, allowing Martin and Watson's expressiveness to reach its highest plateau.
Throughout the album, Mel's edgy tenor sound is aggressive but not frantic and he purposely favors the higher register of the instrument for his frequent acrobatic runs. Yet, his approach doesn't come across as self-indulgently flashy because his vocabulary is deeply rooted in the genuine jazz tradition of the great masters of the saxophone. Then again, while the saxophonist evokes to my ears various different influences, ranging from Johnny Griffin's impetuosity to Wayne Shorter's introspection, his personality is strongly defined and unique in many respects. Overall, Mel's energy is amazingly showcased all across the album, so much so that you would think you were listening to some fierce "young lion" of the instrument. It is my feeling that this energy is the cohesive glue of the ensemble as it spreads contagiously to every single member of it. Either way, the rhythmic section swings hard and the soloists feed from each other's drive and enthusiasm in every single tune. As a final semantical remark, "Bebop and Beyond" it's a catchy name for this group but perhaps "Beyond Bebop" would be more appropriate. Don't miss this one.
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