Just Friends

Mel Martin/ Benny Carter Quintet

In his 1989 tome, The Swing Era, composer/conductor Gunther Schuller examines Benny Carter’s career from 1930-45 and remarks on Carter’s “prodigious versatility.” Indeed. Carter (1907-2003) composed, arranged and played trumpet, clarinet and alto sax in a variety of contexts—primarily with his own orchestras—before settling in Hollywood, where he wrote for movies and television. After making a handful of records in the ’50s and ’60s, he returned to performing in a big way in the ’70s thanks to Norman Granz, who also recorded him on his Pablo label. This disc pairs Carter with Bay Area tenor saxist/flutist Mel Martin in a 1994 concert at Yoshi’s in Oakland. They had teamed up first in ’89 and later on two tours of Japan. Here the elegant, indefatigable Carter (86 at the time of the recording) and the ebullient Martin (52) immediately get down to business on “Perdido,” an uptempo exercise in blowing. On the title track Carter, who plays alto throughout, is both ethereal and earthy. The relaxed “Elegy in Blue,” a Carter original, is achingly lovely. “People Time” is a feature for Martin’s exquisite flute, and his own “Spritely” is a delightful waltz that presents him with the rhythm section.