The indomitable Benny Carter is, arguably, best known for leading and writing for large ensembles. As a result, Carter's stature as an alto saxophonist has often been overlooked. Thanks to Verve Records founder Norman Granz, however, we can hear Carter in the studio as a straight-ahead player with a series of outstanding smaller ensembles. Compiled from three different dates, some of which remained unissued domestically until this 1991 collection, 3,4, 5 - THE VERVE SMALL GROUP SESSIONS finds Carter playing in a trio, quartet, and quintet, respectively. The sessions are quite different in feel. The quartet numbers (tracks 9-16), originally released as a "pop" album by Verve, with hopes of crossover commercial success, has a somewhat mainstream feel, centering on lush ballads that parade Carter's sumptuous, romantic alto tone. The quintet tracks (17-19) feature a fuller--but equally mellow--sound, with help from pianist Oscar Peterson and the smoothly swinging guitar of Herb Ellis. But it is the all-star summit meeting of Carter with pianist Teddy Wilson and drummer Jo Jones that is the real treasure here (tracks 1-8). The spare, almost chamber-like feel of this recording does nothing to inhibit the energy or swing of these superior instrumentalists. This is a true jazz gem.

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