The follow-up recording for Max Bennett as a leader includes some sessions that were left off from his debut effort, and includes others from Los Angeles with a different band from the same year of 1955. Vocalist Helen Carr is included on two songs, trombonist Frank Rosolino, pianist Claude Williamson, and drummer Stan Levey contribute on the majority of the cuts, and alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano plays a larger role than on the previous date. This is a diverse effort in terms of instrumentation, a larger emphasis on standards, but retains more of a jam session feel. Two quartet leftovers from the first LP feature Carl Fontana playing strong and long during "Taking a Chance on Love" and "Sweet Sue," where he riffs on the melody. Pianist Dave McKenna is back in a boppish mood, stroking and stoking the coals for the fast "Blues" with Fontana in late, and the trio version of "S'posin'," with Bennett taking the lead. Alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano is featured up front in a way he was not heard on Bennett's first album. His post-Charlie Parker sound is vibrant and exciting during the strong and fleet "Rubberneck" which includes ex-Stan Kenton-ites as pianist Williamson and composer/trombonist Rosolino. This band also does Rosolino's "Just Max" as a feature for the bassist, they jump all over "Jeepers Creepers," and collectively wail on the super duper bop take of "Sweet Georgia Brown." This band is at a fever pitch not heard on the previous date, due to the driving swing of drummer Stan Levey, the excitable Williamson, and the fiery Mariano and Rosolino. Helen Carr, yet another alum of the Kenton bands, was not a well-known vocalist in the general scheme of things, but did release three of her own albums on the Bethlehem label in the mid-'50s. She has a sound that crosses through the thin vibrato of Billie Holiday, the nimble bite of Anita O'Day, and the silky smoothness of Helen Merrill. She's a slight bit flat, but pushes through "They Say" and shines during the ballad "Do You Know Why?" alongside Mariano's effervescent alto. At a time when both Mariano and Rosolino were at the peak of their powers, the tracks they are on would be well worth any jazz student's time and analysis. In the years to follow, Bennett would become a first call studio session electric bass guitarist for films, television, and with Tom Scott's L.A. Express. Both Max Bennett and Max Bennett Plays comprise substantial reminders of what a force the bass player was on the Southern California mainstream jazz scene. Both volumes come highly recommended, but one wonders why they couldn't have been packaged as a companion double-CD set. Timewise, they would fit, and the two recordings truly belong together.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos