Just Friends Friends & Mentors Mel Martin Plays Benny Carter
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JAZZ TIMES

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.

Owen Cordle


 

MEL MARTIN PLAYS BENNY CARTER
Mel Martin
Enja Records

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?

Paul Evoskovich









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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