Mel Martin

Just Friends

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Released many years after the fact in time for the 2007 Benny Carter centennial, this swinging 1994 live encounter at Yoshi's in Oakland consists of outtakes from a Mel Martin tribute to Carter on Enja released at the time. But that's for the buffs and scholars to sort out, for these are vastly enjoyably prime cuts in their own right, going beyond the status of mere historical document. From the evidence here, as well as the gigs he played at the Hollywood Bowl during this period, Carter at 87 was still a monster of an alto player -- fluid, inventive, more unpredictable than ever. The rhythm section is headed by another jazz original, Roger Kellaway, who adds his own brand of keyboard unpredictability with one foot firmly planted inside the tradition. Carter's solo on "Perdido" is witty and imaginative, not at all ossified by time or routine, while Kellaway goes to town with his own offbeat slants and clusters. Carter goes with and against the pulse of "Secret Love," never losing the thread of the argument, and Martin picks up on Carter's re-ordering of time and space before sailing off into more conventional bop flights. Carter's sauntering "Elegy in Blue" exudes the blues mood from all angles, and his work on the title track is full of fresh ideas and surprises. Carter plays on only four of the six tracks, leaving Martin alone with the trio in his ruminative jazz waltz "Spritely" and with a subdued Kellaway on Carter's "People Time." Martin switches to flute on the latter tune, swirling around with a nice touch of reverb on top of his gentle tone. Of special note is the astonishingly good live remote sound -- clear, full-bodied, with just the right ambience.

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