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Playing With Fire

Playing With Fire  

The Pete Cater Big Band Gallery

Reviewed by Ron Simmonds

 New Recording


“Playing With Fire”

(Jazzit Records JITCD 9812)

Youbetchalife • New Arrival • The Way I Feel • Springtime • A Time For Love • The Suspect • A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square • Some Other Time • Caravan • Regulator

Matt Wates, Scott Garland, Lisa Grahame, Ben Castle, Simon Haysom, Bob MacKay, Frank Griffith, saxes; Andy Cuss, Mike Thomas, Mike Lovatt, Pat White, Olly Preece, trumpets; Liam Kirkman, Nichol Thomson, Chris Traves, Adrian Hallowell, trombones; Carl Orr, guitar; Matt O’Regan, piano; Dave Jones, bass; Pete Cater, drums.

Pete Cater is a drummer. Played drums since he was two years old. He’s won all the drum prizes, played with all the big names and now he has his own big band. This is his band’s first CD. Since it was issued the jazz world has been going haywire.

Pete’s CD, Playing with Fire, has already received rave write–ups in dozens of publications all over the world, among them BOZ, The Observer, London Evening Standard and Australia’s The World of Jazz. He has a fan club in Australia!

Malcolm Laycock has featured the band on BBC Radio 2. Looks like there are no superlatives left for me to use. With my usual cunning I shall therefore avoid the obvious, ignore the splash impact and try and tell you what it is that makes this band sound different from all the others.

It certainly makes you sit up straight and take notice, more so if you listen with earphones, especially so with earphones. For this band has to be listened to at full strength, as if you were in the same room, right up close. Wives, neighbours and dogs will not allow such a loudspeaker volume, and they do like to chat and bark while you’re listening.

The recording level is high, right up to the limit, so take full advantage of that. The CD starts with a bang and ends with a bang. What happens in between is sixty–five minutes of sheer heaven.

Now some reviewers have dared to compare Pete with Buddy Rich, to mention him in the same breath! Buddy was a different kind of drummer, a brilliantly technical man, but I sometimes found his playing in a big band very slick and almost mechanical in its perfection. (Oh Boy! I’m going to get some flak about that!) Apart from that, some of the guys in Buddy’s band were scared half to death of him. Come on!—COME ON!! he used to shout, glaring angrily around. Åke Persson told him once that, in his efforts to get the band going, he kept gaining speed, pushing up the tempo. Buddy didn’t deny that, but growled that they weren’t playing strict tempo for no ballroom dancing championship.

Pete is what I would call a brass–player’s drummer. If I had ever worked with him in the past I would have spent half the time shouting for joy over his fill–ins. Expertly placed, with meticulous precision, yet retaining the wild excitement of the chase, he kicks the band into readiness, then plays the phrase as a brass player would, leaving the listener gasping for breath in admiration.

Wally Heider, who recorded a lot of Buddy’s band in the past, told me that Buddy insisted on 16 microphones for his drums. He used to balance the drum track himself, or, at least, tell the engineer what to do. Pete only used 6 mikes on the CD, but of course the recording equipment is far superior today to anything Buddy ever had available. Pete seems to have tuned his drums down lower than the usual pitch. At any rate: as far as I’m concerned he is getting that thrilling deep drum sound that Buddy used to get when he was in Tommy Dorsey’s band.

Nowadays anyone can buy scores from Los Angeles or Toronto. Send off a few bucks and back come the latest scores of Bob Florence and Rob McConnell. They’re fun to play, no doubt about that, and preferable to the old Glenn Miller slog. Pete has his own star arranger in the shape of Frank Griffith. If I were you, Pete, I’d give Frank a life’s contract, or chain him up somewhere. Never let him go! Of the ten titles on Playing with Fire Frank has composed, arranged and part arranged six of them. He has the ideas, the talent and the technique needed to kick the big band industry back into life and Pete’s is the right band with which to do it.

One of the things that hit me straight away with this recording is the amazing presence of the saxophone section. They are right up close to you, not way in the background, as they often are. To be sure: they are difficult to record because the sound comes out from all over the instrument, and the guys often tend to leap about while playing. I remember that we had to practically hold Tubby Hayes down in his early days because we just couldn’t get him to stand still. This CD was recorded at Gateway Studios in Kingston, so here’s to you, my men. A great feat of engineering.

The saxes get a wonderfully liquid unison sound, a joyful sound that really adds class to everything they play. When they get their teeth into one of their high–speed, hair–raising, jaw–breaking tutti choruses they abruptly drop the angelic bit and put on the monster masks.

Pete’s brass section is a force to reckon with, a veritable wall of sound. Their playing, phrasing and internal balance is awe–inspiring. They phrase correctly, play together and balance perfectly. The drummer Joe Harris used to say, ‘The band that plays together, stays together.’ (He also used to say, quite often, ‘Dis band should disband.’) Somebody must have told these brass players how to do all that because phrasing was one of the biggest problems in the big bands of the past. Some people never got the phrasing right, never understood why, even if you blasted it into their ears for months on end.

Sure, the band is loud. Some people don’t like that. But consider the size of the organ in a church or cathedral. No one expects those enormous pipes to only play pianissimo. And no one complains when the volume is stepped up to the threshold of pain. Symphony orchestras play louder than big bands. It’s high time we had a loud exciting band of our own.

In the old days the big bands had to play for dancing. They were called dance bands. People mostly stood still and listened to them, but they still played dance music. Very few played long jazz arrangements. Now that’s all behind us the big bands have to play another rôle and this is the way to do it. 

A bad habit among many brass players is to play an accent on practically everything: hit it loud, shorten it to half its value and die away quickly. A sforzando–piano on every note. How I hate that. Pete’s brass players don’t do it. They project and hold the notes, retaining the full beauty of the harmonies and keeping up the tension. This is well displayed by the high trombones in A Time for Love.

All of the soloists are outstanding. No point in enthusing about one or the other. The lead trumpet, Andy Cuss, does a superb job on these recordings. He is my kind of lead player and is loaded up with the right amount of fighting spirit to fire up the band.

Oh—one other thing—the rhythm section actually rehearses. This isn’t a joke. Many bands rehearse the winds to perfection and let the rhythm fend for themselves. Peter Herbolzheimer used to get his rhythm section up to Hamburg and rehearse them for a week before we were allowed into the studio. (Pete’s band plays one of his arrangements on the CD—Oh Joy!) These guys are doing everything right by my book.

The scoring for the band was done by Matt Wates (Youbetchalife), Bob Mintzer (The Way I Feel), Peter Herbolzheimer (Springtime), Ed Neumeister (A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square). Frank Griffith wrote the rest of them, with Pete collaborating on a couple of them.

I won’t comment on the individual titles. Better hit the road and buy this album and hear it for yourself. Quick, before they’re all sold out. Have your fire extinguisher ready when you listen to it.

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