Most of the selections on the sixth and final Classics' CD to reissue all of Benny Carter's pre-war recordings as a leader feature the altoist's commercially unsuccessful big band. With such major soloists as the leader, trumpeter Jonah Jones and Sidney DeParis, trombonists Benny Morton and Jimmy Archey and pianist Sonny White, it is surprising that this orchestra did not make it. The October 23, 1940 recording session (which has three vocals by Roy Felton including one in which he is joined by the Mills Brothers) is quite rare while the opening set from eight days earlier is a small group date with Bill Coleman and Benny Morton that features a pair of W.C. Handy blues sung by Big Joe Turner. Excellent swing music overall.
This 1961 set has appeared under Eric Dolphy's name, but it is, in fact, bassist Ron Carter's date - his first as a leader. Carter and Dolphy had played together in Chico Hamilton's group and on Dolphy's important 1960 date Out There. Where? has elements in common with both, but is closer to Hamilton's late-'50s chamber jazz than to the more outward-bound Dolphy date. As on the Dolphy session, Carter is heard on cello for three of the six tracks. Carter's skill is undeniable, but his playing on Where? is a bit polite and monochromatic. The easygoing duet with George Duvivier, for example, is a quiet, back-porch conversation that makes few demands on either of these bass giants…
This CD, the fifth in Classics' complete chronological reissue of Benny Carter's early recordings as a leader, features his 1939-40 big band, an orchestra that never did catch on commercially. Most selections have trumpeter Joe Thomas, trombonist Vic Dickenson and pianist Eddie Heywood as the main soloists other than the leader (who plays alto and trumpet) although the last date on this disc has a reorganized band with trumpeter Bill Coleman and trombonist Sandy Williams among the principal players. among the highpoints from this enjoyable but underrated big band are "Savoy Stampede," "Scandal in a Flat," "Shufflebug Shuffle," "Night Hop" and "When Lights Are Low."
The fourth CD in Classics' complete chronological reissue of Benny Carter's early recordings as a leader finds Carter (on alto, trumpet, clarinet, tenor and even one vocal) leading orchestras in London, Laren, the Hague, Paris and (for the final three selections) New York. Highpoints include "Nagasaki," "I'm in the Mood for Swing," "Blues in My Heart," "I'm Coming Virginia" (from a three-song session that also features Django Reinhardt) and "Melancholy Lullaby." In addition, the great tenor Coleman Hawkins plays a prominent role on four of the performances. Carter is in top form throughout these often formerly rare but very vital swing recordings. His fans should quickly acquire all of these invaluable Classics releases.
The second volume of the complete early Benny Carter from the European Classics label features Carter on alto, trumpet, clarinet and as arranger (in addition to contributing a bit of piano and even a vocal) on three numbers with Spike Hughes's all-star orchestra, as part of the 1933 edition of The Chocolate Dandies (an interracial outfit put together by Mezz Mezzrow) and with his own big band in 1933-34 and in England two years later. Highlights include "Symphony in Riffs," "Blue Lou" and "Everybody Shuffle."
The European Classics series has been reissuing on CD the complete output of many top jazz artists of the '20s and '30s. Benny Carter's music at last receives the treatment it deserves in this program. His first volume features the great altoist with a pickup group (the Chocolate Dandies) from 1929-30 that showcases sidemen from Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra, with his own orchestra in 1932-33 (three of the five numbers have rare vocals from Carter) and on 11 sides with Spikes Hughes's all-star band, an orchestra that also features trumpeter Red Allen, trombonist Dicky Wells, Wayman Carver on flute and the tenors of Coleman Hawkins and Chu Berry. This is wonderful and, in many cases, formerly rare music.