Sax ala Carter! (Capitol, 1960) was released fifty years ago and remains one of saxophonist Benny Carter’s most easy-going and enjoyable sessions. Backed by Jimmy Rowles on piano, Leroy Vinnegar on bass, and Mel Lewis on drums - an absolutely stellar rhythm section - Carter takes a swinging stroll through a number of standards as well as a few surprises. The tunes include “And the Angels Sing,” “All or Nothing at All,” and “For All We Know” (the latter taken at an unexpected medium up-tempo). Carter, as always, provides magic on his melodic lines, able to blow some new life into familiar tunes.
The surprises are three “exotic” tunes that evoke a kind of South Seas dreamscape. The first is “Moon of Manakoora,” written for the 1937 Dorothy Lamour film The Hurricane (directed by John Ford). Taken at a quickish tempo, the song enables Carter to play some wonderful little riffs along the way. “Ennui” is a Carter original that features him on soprano saxophone instead of tenor, and one wishes he had done this more. His tone is luscious on this haunting melody. “Friendly Islands” is another Carter tune that was once used as the theme song for Hawaiian Airlines. Carter’s solos sound effortless on this swinging little number. (Of course, this was part of his mystique. Cannonball Adderley once said, “Benny could and can play as many notes as anyone, but he makes it look easy.” In other words, he never let you see him sweat.) This CD is definitely worth a listen for Benny Carter fans, and everyone else too.