The how of whatever "spooky action at a distance" a particular song or sound performs on our hearts and minds ranks up there, along with dark matter and love-at-first-sight, as one of the most confounding mysteries in the human experience. A perfect example of this sublime magic is The Verve label's release of recordings led by alto saxophonist Benny Carter, Benny Carter: 3, 4, 5 the Verve Small Group Sessions. As the title suggests, the sessions are played on the CD in the consecutive order of a trio, quartet, and finally a quintet. Yet all three combos find a grand unified theory in the luxurious, enchanting alto sax of Benny Carter as his luminous, jubilant playing shines throughout the entire set, particularly on slower numbers such as "June In January," "Don't You Think," and "Unforgettable." Indeed, Carter's warm, tender, velvet timbre brings to mind Nat Cole's mentholated vocals. Similarly, the solo for "This Can't Be Love" recalls vocal-improv extraordinaire Sarah Vaughan with its bobbing, weaving, and careening around the ups and downs of the scales like the stunt driver in a James Bond chase.
The rim shot pick up notes that kick off "Moonglow" signal the end of the trio portion and beginning of the quartet. Featuring some of the most consistently tender playing overall, the quartet set ends with another lunar-themed number "Moon Song." Guitarist Herb Ellis' sublime chords punctuate the final three tracks of the collection and highlight collaborations with heavy weights such as drum legend Jo Jones, piano genius Oscar Peterson, and the fantastic Teddy Wilson, whose solo on "Rosetta" is an adorable love letter to the great Art Tatum. Still, with all of the amazing solos and proficient playing, a laser-like focus on the importance of the tunes permeates the sessions (only one tune out of nineteen runs longer than 5 minutes). As such, this collection functions as the perfect soundtrack for a romantic and relaxing evening or perhaps for trying out some new dance steps with a familiar partner.