BENNY CARTER AND HIS ORCHESTRA Further Definitions (Speakers Corner)

On this 1961 recording saxophonist Benny Carter is accompanied by, if hardly an orchestra, then at least a little big band, the octet including such famous personnel as Coleman Hawkins and Jimmy Garrison. The result is a very Ellington-esque album, and in all honesty I’m as nonplussed  by “Further Definitions” as I am by the Duke’s work. “Crazy Rhythm” is probably the most, and for me only, immediately familiar tune here, having been used as the closing theme on “The Goon Show”. The remainder of this brief album simply slides past without leaving an impression, exemplary though the musicianship undoubtedly is. In fact, guitarist John Collins seems totally subsumed into the group’s sound, not being granted a single solo on the entire album.

Its case isn’t helped by somewhat crude, rough-sounding sonics that even Speakers Corner’s meticulous attention to detail can’t ameliorate on this typically well-pressed vinyl reissue. Maybe it has something to do with the saxophonist-heavy lineup (there being four in all) but for whatever reason, “Further Definitions” has a sandpapery edge that makes it a trial to listen to.

BENNY CARTER Jazz Giant (Analogue Productions) 

Nonplussed as I was with Carter’s later “Further Definitions”, this 1958 album is great. Featuring easygoing, good time jazz from a septet that includes luminaries such as Ben Webster, Andre Previn, Leroy Vinnegar and Shelly Manne, it’s infectiously enjoyable stuff. “Blue Lou” models a visceral, full-blooded attack, “Ain’t She Sweet” is arguably the most familiar tune here thanks to its Beatles connection and “How Can You Lose” is all salacious New Orleans earthiness. This early stereo recording is a bit primitively arranged in places; with all the brass crowded into one speaker and the rhythm section in the other when the former lay out it can leave the listener afflicted with what seems like sudden, profound deafness. That notwithstanding, this is a great album, its title no empty display of hyperbole. As Nat Hentoff’s far-sighted sleevenote, written nearly 53 years ago, attests, “It’s been a long time coming, but it’s also going to be played a long time”.

It helps that Analogue Productions’ reissue sounds phenomenally good. Pressed on two heavyweight 45 rpm discs, it’s firmly in the so-real-it’s-unreal category sonically, true to life to the extent that the mechanical clank, whoosh and thrum of the instruments almost distracts from the music at times. Analogue Productions’ packaging still lags some way behind what Music Matters’ Blue Note reissues achieve, with both records wedged unceremoniously in a thin, non-gatefold sleeve. Nevertheless, this is that rare objet d’art that can brighten my day simply by knowing it’s sitting there on the shelf waiting to be enjoyed.