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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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BENNY CARTER

with The Chocolate Dandies
and with Mezz Mezzrow
and his Orchestra,
1933-34

JSP RECORDS 6702

 

 

Swing It
Synthetic Love
Six Bells Stampede
Love, You're Not the One for Me
Blue Interlude
I Never Knew
Once Upon a Time
Krazy Kapers
Devil's Holiday
Lonesome Nights
Symphony in Riffs
Blue Lou
Free Love
Dissonance
Swingin' with Mezz
Love, You're Not the One for Me
Old Fashioned Love
Apologies
Sendin' the Vipers
35th and Calumet
Shoot the Works
Dream Lullaby
Everybody Shuffle
Synthetic Love

Benny Carter with his Orchestra (tracks 1-4, 9-12, 21-24), The Chocolate Dandies (tracks 5-8) and with Mezz Mezzrow and his orchestra (13-20)
Recorded 1933-34 [76:44]


If you are a habitué of that fine label, JSP, you may be squinting hard at this release wondering whether (or not) you have encountered it before. Let me reassure you: you have. Back in the early 90s it came out on JSP CD331 and this is a straight reissue under a new number. It enshrines six complete sessions recorded between 1933-34 by bands led by Benny Carter and Mezz Mezzrow –the personnel was largely the same in both cases.

The Chocolate Dandies have always occupied a respected place in the hearts of aficionados of the music. The Mezzrow sides are somewhat less known but contain fine things, and the tracks by Carter and his Orchestra similarly impressive. What characterises these last is the easy swinging elegance of the playing and Carter’s fastidious arrangements. Some of the crème de la crème of New York-based musicians sat in the band – Shad Collins, Bill Dillard, Wilbur de Paris, Chu Berry, with things anchored by drummer Sid Catlett. Leaving aside the execrable vocals – the personnel track listing deigns to list the singer, but it was Carter himself – what impresses is the careful subtlety of the music. Carter knew Spike Hughes, the Anglo-Irish composer, and covered Six Bells Stampede a piece Hughes had written with pianist Billy Munn and recorded with his own band – one of the classic recordings of early British big band jazz. Carter’s cover is respectful and clever, with plenty of brio and a nice piano interlude from Nicholas Rodriguez.

Sometimes the 1933 band’s rhythm was a touch heavy but Carter’s legato is sinuous and typically elegant and when Chu Berry appears, even briefly, the temperature inevitably rises. Krazy Kapers is the pick of the Dandies’ first session with its growl trumpet and atmospherics, but it’s equally interesting to hear the pioneering flautist Wayman Carver – that was his double as he specialized as an alto player – given that his solos are forward-looking and full of suggestively airy colour. It’s true that the Carter band retained a certain reserved hauteur; this was no Rhythmakers, which had recorded the previous year and was a far fierier, invigorating band. Mezzrow’s band carried with it the seeds of its own specific limitation – the leader’s crude saxophone playing and his metronomically on-the-beat clarinet playing – but compensation comes from the assemblage of co-musicians. It’s certainly good to be reminded of the virtues of trombonist Floyd O’Brien. Ever more august players seeped into this recording band – Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith, Max Kaminsky, Teddy Wilson, some Ellingtonians, and Ben Webster amongst a number. We end this 24-track set with the number recorded almost at the beginning of the first session – Synthetic Love, again with a terrible Carter vocal.

Overlook the vocals and concentrate on the instrumental quality on show in these well transferred sides, which have matrix details in the booklet – but not, surprisingly, catalogue numbers.

Jonathan Woolf



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