Yet there is far more to Carter’s legacy than just a saxophone — and as if to emphasize the point, the concert was anchored by two contrasting groups. One was the top-notch, dynamically sensitive Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, spiked with savvy veterans such as plunger-mute wizard Snooky Young, capable of joyous, airtight swing on numbers like “Easy Money,” “I Be Serious About Dem Blues,” and the world premiere of John Clayton’s splendidly robust 16-minute “Maestro: The Benny Carter Suite.” Components of the big band also supported some marvelously smooth quadruple-sax-led charts from Carter’s revered “Further Definitions” album, as well as a multisax jam on “One O’Clock Jump.”
The other anchor was a small combo driven by the heavyweight rhythm section of pianist Gerald Wiggins, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Roy McCurdy, featuring guitarist Kenny Burrell leaning right into the swinging groove of “When Lights Are Low,” trombonist Al Grey’s equally adroit plunger-mute tricks, and Jimmy Heath’s direct, blunt tone on tenor.
Elsewhere, Diana Krall injected some glamour into the evening with a rendition of a clever new tribute song “Benny” — although her voice clung cautiously and tightly to the lines of the big band — and Burrell brought out some soulful depths in trumpeter Nicholas Payton in a duet. Buddy Collette, who turned 76 on this date, shared birthday honors, an equally sweet-toned sax style, and the same initials with jazz’s newest nonagenarian.