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Ben Carter Quintet

Ben Carter Quintet, Corn Exchange Jazz Club, The Corn Exchange, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, 16/05/2024.

Photography: Photograph sourced from Ben Carter's Facebook page [url=][/url]

by Ian Mann

May 18, 2024


Carter displays an impressive compositional maturity and his pieces feature strong melodies and memorable themes, but with plenty of space allocated to individual soloists.

Ben Carter Quintet, Corn Exchange Jazz Club, The Corn Exchange, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, 16/05/2024.

Ben Carter – alto saxophone, Conor Bastible – piano, Tom Henery – guitar, Thomas Marsh – double bass, Henry Wakley – drums

I first encountered the playing of alto saxophonist Ben Carter when he appeared at The Corn Exchange in February 2024 as part of a quintet led by bassist and composer Thomas Marsh.

Both Carter and Marsh are recent graduates of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and are still at the beginning of their jazz careers. Marsh released his debut album “What’s Wrong With Rain?” in July 2023, a recording that mainly featured his original compositions in addition to arrangements of a couple of standards plus an inspired adaptation of the John Martyn song “Solid Air”.

My review of Marsh’s Ross show, which includes a look at the “What’s Wrong With Rain?” album, can be found here;

In addition to the quality of the playing by all members of the quintet I was also highly impressed by Marsh’s abilities as a composer. His writing exhibited an admirable maturity and included both jazz and rock influences. “What’s Wrong With Rain?” represents a very promising debut and I expect to hear a lot more from Thomas Marsh in the role of leader.

Following the Marsh Quintet show I also spoke to Carter who informed me that he was also a composer and bandleader and that he had just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help finance the recording of his debut EP, which was to be titled “Pulsar”. The Jazzmann was more than happy to support Ben’s campaign with the publication of a news story and with a reference to the campaign in my review of Marsh’s show.

I’m pleased to report that the campaign was successful and that Carter has exceeded his expectations and actually recorded a full length album featuring five of his his original compositions. Carter’s pieces are based around regular grooves and it’s this element of repetition that informs the title “Pulsar”, with the musicians improvising in response to melodies written around a regular rhythmic pulse. But please don’t get the impression that there’s anything repetitive or boring about Carter’s music. Like Marsh he displays an impressive compositional maturity and his pieces feature strong melodies and memorable themes, but with plenty of space allocated to individual soloists.

The quintet that Carter brought to Ross to play his music included Marsh on bass plus Henry Wakley on drums, who had also featured at that February performance. On guitar was Tom Henery, who hadn’t visited previously but did appear on one track on Marsh’s album. Playing the venue’s upright acoustic piano was Conor Bastible, like Henery a final year student at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and due to graduate in 2024.

Southampton born Carter cites fellow saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Chris Potter as significant influences and tonight’s programme included compositions from each of these. Other significant sources of saxophonic and compositional inspiration include Paul Desmond, Art Pepper, Charlie Parker, Kamasi Washington, Danny Janklow and Snarky Puppy’s Bob Reynolds.

Ross had been badly hit by thunderstorms earlier in the week and this evening there was still a risk of heavy showers. The weather hardly seemed to have improved since February! The response of the local populace to Marsh’s rain related enquiry was to turn out in force for tonight’s gig and both Carter and promoter Dave Logan announced themselves well pleased with the turnout.

The performance commenced with Carter’s original composition “Midnight Blues”, one of the tunes from the forthcoming “Pulsar” album. This had something of the feel of a hard bop standard and introduced Carter’s pure alto sound as he stated the theme and delivered the first solo. Bastible, originally from Sligo, Ireland, impressed with an expansive piano solo, as did Marsh with a melodic excursion on double bass. Henery also announced himself on guitar as the evening got off to an excellent start.

The first ‘outside’ item was “Worlds Collide”, a composition by the American saxophonist Danny Janklow. This was a forceful piece with a more contemporary,  sometimes modal feel and included solos from Marsh and Henery, plus a particularly impassioned alto solo from Carter.
An unaccompanied double bass ‘coda’ actually provided the link into the next piece, the Carter original “Daylight Fade”. This lowered the temperature slightly with Carter stating the melodic theme and soloing expansively above a recurring piano motif that exemplified the “Pulsar” approach. Once he had been relieved of ‘comping’ duties the impressive Bastible then stretched out with a solo of his own.

Carter’s imaginative adaptation of the standard “Lamp is Low” began quietly but quickly accelerated into a lively Latin-esque arrangement with Carter trading solos with guitarist Tom Henery. Much like his leader Henery favoured a pure, well articulated tone and an orthodox jazz guitar sound that made relatively little use of effects pedals. This performance was rounded off by a drum feature from Wakley that saw him trading phrases with sax, guitar and piano.

The first set concluded with the quintet’s version of the Chris Potter composition “The Nerve”, a track from Potter’s album “Circuits”, a 2019 release for the British record label “Edition”. The evocative intro featured Marsh on bowed bass as Henery conjured an oud like sound from his guitar. Rhythmically this piece fitted well into the “Pulsar” concept and included solos from Carter on alto and Henery on guitar, both maintaining something of that North African / Middle Eastern feel.

Set two got underway with Carter’s composition “Low Stakes”, again centred around a regular piano pulse and with Carter soloing either side of features for Henery and Wakley.

Carter paid homage to his fellow alto player Kenny Garrett with the latter’s composition “Thessalonika”, a tune from Garrett’s celebrated 2002 album “Happy People”. This saw Carter sharing the solos with Bastible in this engaging tribute.

Introduced by Henery and Marsh, “Dolores in a Shoe Stand in Bali” represented Carter’s ingenious homage to two compositions by pianists, “Dolores in a Shoe Stand” by Esbjorn Svensson (E.S.T.) and “Bali” by Joey Alexander. Guitar and bass were joined by piano and brushed drums with Carter making the initial theme statement before handing over to Marsh for a melodic double bass solo. Marsh subsequently handed over to guitarist Henery, whose solo was followed by some impressive interplay between bass, guitar and piano, underpinned by Wakley’s brushed drums. Finally Carter returned to solo fluently and expansively and to deliver the final theme.

Ushered in by Bastible at the piano the Kamasi Washington composition “Truth” was particularly well received by the Ross crowd. Washington’s 21st century brand of spiritual jazz has certainly resonated with audiences and behind the epic sweep of Washington’s quasi-orchestral arrangements there are some seriously catchy and accessible melodies. This was certainly the case here, with Washington’s tune further enhanced by the exuberant soloing of Carter and Bastible. The deployment of a recurring piano motif also ensured that this was another outside item that fitted well into the overall “Pulsar” concept.

A highly successful performance concluded in lively fashion with a fast paced rendition of Carter’s original composition “Clam Fish”. This included expansive solos from Carter and Henery plus an extended drum feature from the always impressive Wakley.

The audience responded very positively to this performance by the Ben Carter Quintet with several people taking to their feet to applaud the band. Unfortunately a deserved encore was not forthcoming, presumably because they had nothing prepared and had exhausted all their material. This was the only disappointing aspect of the evening, but a lesson for the future perhaps. Even a good humoured jam would have been appreciated by the audience.

Nevertheless I was again impressed by the quality of both the playing and the writing and I am very much looking forward to hearing “Pulsar”, which is due to be released shortly. As with Thomas Marsh I predict a bright jazz future for Ben Carter. My thanks to both of them for speaking with me after the show.

The Corn Exchange has now hosted two successful events featuring graduates and students from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. It would be good if that link could be maintained with more RBC alumni and students coming to Ross. The music would be of a quality rarely seen in a remote area like Herefordshire while the opportunity to perform in front of an appreciative audience would represent a welcome ‘leg up’ for the musicians.



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