THE PETE CATER
|Reviewed by Ron Simmonds|
THE PETE CATER BIG BAND
®The Song Is You, ®Silver's Serenade, ®Autumn In New York, ®All Blues, ®Laura, ®Phineas, ®King Size Skins, ®Angel Eyes, ®Meaning Of The Blues, ®Nomad
VOCALION CDSA 6801
Trumpets: Andy Cuss, Darren Wiles, Oliver Preece,
On tracks 2,8,9 & 10 Ben Castle replaces Simon Haysom and Dave Williamson replaces Barnaby Dickinson.
When you listen to the Pete Cater Big Band you realise at once just what a giant step Pete and his musicians have made for British big band jazz. Most large jazz combinations in the United Kingdom today seem to lack energy. In the old days, when the big touring bands had to make themselves heard over the noise and scuffle of large ballrooms, there was plenty of energy. No doubt about that. Today the bands play well, often faultlessly, but the music often seems to end just after it emerges from the bells of the instruments. There is no projection and very little in the way of excitement. This is no doubt due to the fact that many of the bands have grown accustomed to studio work, playing into microphones.
The Pete Cater band has not fallen into this trap. They produce power and generate excitement, even when playing quietly. That is projection as I know it.
The charts on this CD have been written by outstanding arrangers and composers. Frank Griffith wrote four of them - remember his scores on Pete's first album, Playing with Fire? Now Pete introduces his other talented men: pianist Matt O'Regan, Vince Mendoza, Martin Williams, Dick Lieb, and Dan Gailey. I suspect that one or two of them are contemporaries of Frank Griffith from the time he spent with Manny Album and Bill Finnegan.
On a recording of such perfection it is difficult to single out individuals. The brass is awe-inspiring. Every entry is breath-taking at both ends - from the lead trumpet of Andy Cuss to the superb bass trombone of Adrian Hallowell. Dave Jones takes some inspired bass solos. Usually a bass solo will be unaccompanied, save a light drum rhythm and perhaps a few random chords from the keyboards. Here the bass plays solo over an ensemble background, a wonderful effect.
The saxophone recording is perfect. As the sound comes out from all over the instrument engineers have generally been forced to record saxes from a distance. This section has wonderful presence, and a sound that, to me, conjures up fond memories of the great Kenton saxes when they were led by Lee Konitz.
But, of course, it is Pete Cater himself who fires up this band, gives it the energy that surges out with every note it plays. Take away Pete and not even these guys would be able to make up for his loss.
Here's a tip: once you've heard All Blues right through, play it again at once, then one more time. It will grow on you. Well, it did on me, and I'm an old soldier, heard it all. But I ain't never heard nothin' like this CD before, no sir.
Sixteen men swinging. There’s nothing more exhilarating. I felt it with Woody Herman’s first Herds, and then with Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich ....and that same excitement, the kind which makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, is generated for me today by the Pete Cater Big Band. I enjoyed their debut CD “Playing with Fire” so much that I put a track on my Radio 2 show and it prompted immediate nods of approval.
Pete Cater is a self-taught natural drummer just like Buddy Rich. Buddy appeared on a vaudeville stage with his parents when he was two years old. By a remarkable coincidence, Pete’s childhood was spent alongside his father’s band and he appeared on television when he was also two years old. Thirty-four years later and the scene changes. The child prodigy has become the leader of the band — Pete now fronts one of the most progressive and exciting big bands in Britain and is currently experiencing a breath-taking rise to fame. Critics and musicians began to sit up and take note after a tumultuous reception at the Jersey Jazz Festival in 1998. Suddenly, here was a band which was drawing on the experience of the great big bands of the past and then projecting into the ‘90s.
There’s no big secret as to how it’s done. It stems from freshness, originality and talent. The starting point is a band of brilliant young players, each and every one. The Herman, Kenton, Ferguson and Rich bands were all youthful groups of mainly under twenty-five year olds, and they kicked with the exuberance of youth. Similarly, the Pete Cater band kicks. It contains some young players whose progress I have watched with satisfaction from a distance. Ben Castle, for example, is now one of Britain’s most respected tenor sax players, firmly established with his own quartet, and whose inventive solos I find really quite stimulating. Trumpeter Andy Cuss doesn’t know it, but I’ve followed his musical progress too, and watched him develop into one of Britain’s most exciting players and section leaders. Altoist Scott Garland heads the sax section, and he’s a soloist of finesse and fire. Add in players like Matt O’Regan and trombonist Liam Kirkman and it’s clear the band has a string of soloists who are each worth the ticket price alone!
Many of these players have won individual honours. Pete himself won awards in his early days with the Midlands Youth Jazz orchestra, keeping the Musicians’ Union ‘outstanding drummer’ award for five consecutive years. He won the prestigious Jack Parnell award in the BBC Radio 2 national big band competition, and then went on to garner the Kenny Clare drum award. It may sound like name-dropping, but I have to tell you that since then he has played with — in alphabetical order — Kenny Baker, Charlie Byrd, Benny Carter, Al Conn, John Dankworth, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Buddy De Franco, Terry Gibbs, Scott Hamilton, Barney Kessell, Don Lusher, and Arturo Sandoval. That’s impressive! I could add more, but I don’t want to embarrass him! In fact, Arturo Sandoval liked Pete’s playing so much that he invited him onto his European tour in 1992.
But a band is a unit, not just a collection of soloists. Pete’s band has achieved that all-important “internal balance’ in its ensemble playing, so that it feels spot-on and provides a confident bed for the soloists. The credit for this belongs to everyone involved - Pete for his leadership and vision and each player for his ability and commitment. But they all rely on the arrangements. Refreshingly, all the material is new and unique to the band. Sometimes they play specially written arrangements of old tunes, and sometimes entirely new compositions written for them. Pete commissions new material from some of the UK’s finest young writers, and he’s also brought in American tenor saxman Frank Griffith, who studied with both Bill Finegan and Bob Mintzer, to write some exciting originals for them.
So what is an evening with the Pete Cater band like? First, what it’s not like. It’s not an evening of nostalgia, of listening to big band hits of the past, of trying to simulate the sound of some of the famous bands of the swing era. But it is an evening of contemporary big band music, played by some of Britain’s finest young musicians, and played with verve, conviction and enthusiasm. Critic Dave Gelly of the ‘Observer’ wrote “the sheer unflagging drive is impressive”. Chris Yates in ‘jazz Rag magazine’ called the band “an important voice in British jazz”. Roy Belcher in ‘Big Bands International’ magazine said it is “a band with verve, excellent, a taste of things to come”.
All this critical acclaim explains why the band has been awarded an Arts Council grant, why it has secured a residency at Britain’s most famous and oldest jazz venue (the Bull’s Head at Barnes), and why tracks from its CD are being played on Radios 2 and 3, on Jazz FM, and even on ABC in Australia! Pete says, “What I try and do is to give the musicians material that they want to play, and in so doing set themselves a challenge, to be the best they can be and to perform at the highest level. Probably the most gratifying thing for me is that the music we play crosses so many boundaries. At our shows you can see people of 80 getting every bit as much from the music as 18 year olds.”
If all of this weren’t enough, the Pete Cater Big Band this year consolidated its place in the UK jazz firmament by winning the ‘Best Big Band’ category in the British Jazz Awards, 2000. Meanwhile, do not miss them in concert. If you like big band jazz you’ll have a great evening.
© 2000 Malcolm Laycock, BBC Radio 2
Copyright © 2001, Jazz Professional. All Rights Reserved.