Sunday, July 25, 2010

Music Review: Further Definitions by Benny Carter and his Orchestra

Personnel Tracks 1-8:
Benny Carter, Phil Woods-Alto Saxophones
Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Rouse-Tenor Saxophones
Dick Katz-Piano
John Collins-Guitar
Jimmy Garrison-Bass
Jo Jones-Drums

Personnel Tracks 9-16:
Benny Carter, Bud Shank-Alto Saxophones
Teddy Edwards, Bill Perkins, Buddy Collette-Tenor Saxophones
Bill Hood-Baritone Saxophone
Don Abney-Piano
Barney Kessel, Mundell Lowe-Guitars
Ray Brown-Bass
Alvin Stoller-Drums

1. Honeysuckle Rose
2. The Midnight Sun Will Never Set
3. Crazy Rhythm
4. Blue Star
5. Cottontail
6. Body and Soul
7. Cherry
9. Fantastic, That's You
10. Come On Back
11. We Were In Love
12. If Dreams Come True
13. Prohibido
14. Doozy
15. Rock Bottom
16. Titmouse

In 1961, Benny Carter went into a recording studio in New York, along with some of the best musicians ever to play jazz.  Like always, he had a mix of old veterans and new players.  The old veterans were Coleman Hawkins, Jo Jones, a veteran of Count Basie's orchestra and John Collins who had worked previously with Benny and Nat King Cole, and of course Benny himself.  The new guys were Phil Woods, who at the time was with Quincy Jones' Big Band, Jimmy Garrison who was playing with John Coltrane, Charlie Rouse who was with Thelonious Monk, and Dick Katz who played with Lee Konitz, among others. As usual, Benny wrote all of the arrangements.  Benny Carter defined big band reed sections.  He was the first to arrange charts using two alto saxes, two tenor saxes and a baritone sax.  Since he could also play brass instruments, he arranged beautifully for them too.  He would write arrangements for Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman and Count Basie, among others, and he wrote for film and television as well.  This is all covered in my tribute to Benny Carter.  This was the recording that inspired me to pick up a saxophone and want to play.

Five years later, he assembled a group of musicians on the west coast, including many of the best session men that also played on the movies and TV shows that Benny wrote scores for.  Among them was bassist Ray Brown, who had moved to the west coast from New York, guitarist Barney Kessel and Alto sax player Bud Shank.  He was to call that recording "Additions To Further Definitions".  In 1997, Impulse released both recordings on one disc as Further Definitions, including the liner notes from both albums. 

Further Definitions has been on several lists of the top 100 jazz recordings of all time, and is considered Benny Carter's greatest recording. for reasons that become obvious when you listen to it. If you're a saxophone player, and even if you're not, this would have to be in your collection of definitive jazz recordings, as well as a lesson in jazz arranging.  To say that this recording swings like mad would be an understatement.  Benny Carter was one of the chief architects  of big band swing writing, arranging and playing, and these recordings show you a master at the peak of his craft.

The original idea was to recreate the famous sides Benny Carter recorded with Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt in Paris in 1937.  Honeysuckle Rose and Crazy Rhythm are the two tunes from that session recreated for this one.  However, these are not exact recreations, as Benny updated the arrangements.  Benny Carter never looked back, but always moved forward.  Though Benny would work many times with Coleman Hawkins after this, he never worked with Woods, Rouse, Katz, Garrison and Jo Jones before.  When Benny arrived in New York, he didn't bring his own horn with him so he had to borrow one.  I do not know whose horn it was that he borrowed.

This album is not only a primer for how to arrange for saxophones, but is also a lesson for any musician regardless of instrument on how to play a solo in a concise fashion.  All of the section parts are tightly arranged, and when each player solos, he has only one chorus in which to make his statement and then move over for the next soloist.  The only extended solos on this recording are by Benny on Blue Star, the second version of Doozy and Titmouse and Coleman Hawkins on Body and Soul.  However, even here these two masters teach what it is to make your point  and then go on.  No meandering solos that go on and on, no wasted notes, no wasted time.  All of the players play perfect solos as if they were written out, but then when masters improvise it always contains the elements of composition.  Free jazz exponents might call this too tight, too constricted, but I'm usually inclined to disagree with them anyway.  This kind of tightness forces the player to really think on his feet because there's simply no time to take your time. 

Unlike most reviews of recordings, I'm not going to go into each of the songs and break them down and analyze them.  The best thing anyone can do is to listen for themselves.  If you haven't heard this recording before, I think you're in for one of the biggest surprises in your life.  You're going to wonder why you haven't heard of it before, especially if you've been listening to jazz for years.  However, I will give a brief description of the tunes.

The opening track is Honeysuckle Rose, and it sends this recording bursting out of the gate.   Swings hard, and all the soloists introduce themselves boldly.  They're playing like they know they're a part of something special.  Next up is Quincy Jones' The Midnight Sun Will Never Set.  The only sax solos are by Carter and Hawkins.  Next is Crazy Rhythm, the second song from the Paris session.  It swings like crazy.  On Blue Star, one of Benny's own compositions, Hawkins makes the opening statement, and then after the bridge, Carter plays one of the most gorgeous and lush alto solos you will ever hear.  He swoops and cascades all over the horn, yet never loses sight of the melody.  Here he shows that he can play as many notes on a horn as anyone, not to show off but to enhance the song.

On Cottontail, Benny's the first soloist, and once again he rips out of the gate and then shows how to play a solo with total command of tone and technique.  Next comes Body and Soul, the tune that Coleman Hawkins made famous, and is one of the seminal recordings in all of jazz.  On this version, Benny wrote new changes, and Coleman Hawkins eats up those changes and makes another classic version of that tune.  The last two are Cherry and Doozy, another Carter original, both tunes played with a moderate swing.  In all cases, all the soloists shine on every number.

Tracks 9-16 are from the Additions To Further Definitions sessions recorded in LA in 1966.  While not reaching the same heights as the first, there are some great moments here.   Carter wrote a few more originals here, as well as a different arrangement of his tune Doozy which was on the original session.  This version is played at a faster tempo, and Carter concludes with a fine solo that once again defines what swing is. Other Carter originals are Come On Back, We Were In Love, Prohibido which is played in a Bossa Nova style, Rock Bottom a slow blues and Titmouse, a nice swinger to close the recording.

If you're a saxophone player, this is a must for your collection.  If you're a jazz lover, this a must for your collection.  If you're a music lover, this is a must for your collection. Get the point?

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