Mel Martin/ Benny Carter Quintet 

Just Friends

Know it or not, longtime Bay Area musicheads have likely heard tenor saxophonist Mel Martin — aside from leading Bebop & Beyond, he's played with Cold Blood, Santana, the Escovedo family, and assorted other homies. If you're a hardcore jazz fan, you've likely heard the legendary Benny Carter, as an alto saxophonist, arranger, composer, and/or conductor who, aside from leading small and large combos, has played with Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others. Here, these longtime buds go to town on standards and originals, recorded live in 1994 at Yoshi's original location. Backed by a world-class trio featuring pianist Roger Kellaway (that's him on the closing theme to All in the Family), Carter and Martin make a fascinating match. Carter's alto is supple, old-school elegant, unpredictably fluid; Martin's tenor is slightly breathy, big-toned, luxuriant, and blues-drenched — to hear them intertwine is riveting. Other high points include Kellaway's jolly dissonant jabs on the charging "Perdido," and if extraterrestrials landed near your dwelling and asked, "What is this thing you humans call a 'jazz ballad?" you'd play them "People Time," which features Martin's achingly beautiful, meditative flute. Released this year to commemorate the late Carter's centennial, Friends is darn near everything a jazz disc ought to be.


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