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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Soho Nights Vol. 1

Resteamed RSJ 106




1. Announcement
2. Johnny Come Lately
3. Come Sunday
4. Sunday
5. Londonderry Air
6. For All We Know
7. In A Mellotone
8. Announcement
9. The Jeep Is Jumpin'
10. Londonderry Air
11. What Am I Here For?
12. The Theme
13. Announcement
Ben Webster - Tenor sax
Stan Tracey - Piano
Dave Green - Bass
Tony Crombie - Drums
Ronnie Scott - Announcer

This is the first of three projected CDs made from recently-discovered tapes of tenor-saxist Ben Webster. On this session, he was performing at Ronnie Scott's London club in 1968, backed by Ronnie's rhythm section of Stan Tracey, Dave Green and Tony Crombie.

Webster was by this time settled in Copenhagen, where he died less than six years later. He had, of course, found fame in the 1940s as an important member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, where his style matured considerably. But he matured even further in the 1950s, still growling on the tenor sax (as you can hear in Sunday) but developing a style that was distinguished by its warm and breathy tone. This unique sound is notable in both versions of Londonderry Air, where Ben's delivery consists almost as much of breathing as playing notes. He tends to stay quite close to the melody when improvising, but his sound is so beautiful that one hangs on his every note. His interpretation of Ellington's Come Sunday is a rhapsodic highlight of the album.

Five of the eleven music tracks have Ellington connections, including a bouncy version of Billy Strayhorn's Johnny Come Lately and an assured reading of The Jeep is Jumpin', co-written by Ellington with Johnny Hodges. In fact, I suspect that some influence from Hodges may have rubbed off on Ben Webster when they were playing side-by-side in Duke's orchestra, as Webster's sweet tone and soaring notes are in some respects similar to Hodges' style.

The rhythm section provides sterling support for the star. Stan Tracey's piano is as edgy as ever, underpinned by the totally dependable double bass of Dave Green and the excitable drumming of Tony Crombie. The sound quality is remarkably good for recordings transferred from old quarter-inch tape. Ronnie Scott's introductory and closing announcements are expendable, but they only occupy a couple of minutes and they convey Ronnie's sincere appreciation for his great fellow-tenorist.

Tony Augarde






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