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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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BEN WEBSTER

Ballads

Phoenix by Discovery 131510

 

 


1. Chelsea Bridge
2. Love Is Here to Stay
3. It Happens to Be Me
4. All Too Soon
5. Willow Weep for Me
6. Come Rain or Come Shine
7. Prelude to a Kiss
8. Do Nothin' till You Hear from Me
9. My Greatest Mistake
10. There Is No Greater Love
11. Blue Moon
12. What Am I Here For?
13. We'll Be Together Again
14. Early Autumn
15. Until Tonight
16. Teach Me Tonight
17. My Funny Valentine
18. Sophisticated Lady
19. Almost Like Being in Love

Ben Webster - Tenor sax, with:
Tracks 1-4
Tony Scott - Clarinet
Mac Ceppos, David Novales, Mischa Russell - Violins
Richard Dickler - Viola
Rudy Sims - Cello
Billy Strayhorn - Piano, arranger, conductor
George Duvivier - Bass
Louie Bellson- Drums
Tracks 5-8
Jimmy Hamilton - Clarinet
Danny Bank - Clarinet, flute, bass clarinet
Sol Deutsch, Leo Kruczek, Julius Schachter, Jack Zayde - Violins
Burt Fisch - Viola
Bernard Greenhouse - Cello
Teddy Wilson - Piano
Wendell Marshall - Bass
Louie Bellson - Drums
Ralph Burns - Conductor, arranger
Tracks 9-16
Danny Bank - Flute, clarinet
Al Epstein - Clarinet, English horn, bass clarinet
Harold Coletta, Martin Donegan, Leo Kruczek, Harry Lookofsky, Gene Orloff, Tosha Samaroff, Paul Winter - Violins
Burt Fisch - Viola
Abe Borodkin, George Ricci, Lucien Schmit - Cellos
Hank Jones - Piano
Chet Amsterdam, Wendell Marshall - Bass
Osie Johnson - Drums
Ralph Burns - Arranger, conductor
Tracks 17-18
Teddy Wilson - Piano
Ray Brown - Bass
Jo Jones - Drums
Track 19
Billy Strayhorn - Piano, arranger, conductor
George Duvivier - Bass
Louie Bellson- Drums

 

A recent article about Ben Webster in a jazz magazine said "Ben's breathy, aspirate sound plus heavy vibrato now more and more replicated a slow puncture". It is true that, in his later years, Webster's tenor sax often dissolved into simple breathing through the instrument, although the fluttering vibrato still gave it musicality. Earlier on, he was capable of a growling tone which showed up most memorably on Cotton Tail in 1940 while he was with the Ellington Orchestra.

Although, as the title suggests, this album consists of slow, tender numbers, that growl still appears occasionally. It can be heard in Do Nothin' till You Hear from Me. So Ben could play soft and loud, gentle and lusty. The CD consists of tracks from a double LP recorded in 1954 and 1955, placing Ben with four different groups, three of them including string and woodwind backings. The strings are occasionally shrill and add little to one's listening pleasure, as one wants to hear Webster - and the background is almost immaterial. Indeed, the strings at the beginning of Teach Me Tonight are so piercing that they remind me of the notorious shower scene in the film Psycho.

Ralph Burns wrote most of the otiose string arrangements (although I like his backing on Blue Moon), but Billy Strayhorn composed them rather more subtly for the first four tracks. I like most the cuts where Webster is accompanied simply by a sympathetic rhythm section. My Funny Valentine and Sophisticated Lady (as well as such tracks as Come Rain or Come Shine) benefit from Teddy Wilson's delicate piano, while Almost Like Being in Love reminds us what a subtle pianist Billy Strayhorn was, with drummer Louie Bellson adding fitting brushwork.

Ben's gentle side is an endless joy to hear. As the tunes are ballads, they are slow enough for you to hear what the tenorist does with each number, which is almost always inventive and original. For example, the album repeats Ben playing All Too Soon, which he performed so memorably with the Ellington band in 1940. His reading here shows that he was a master of phrasing and how he added graceful embellishments even while stating a simple melody. And that warm, breathy tenor tone is endlessly engaging.

The sleeve-notes, perhaps unwisely, quote a 1965 interview with Ben in which he said "You wouldn't want to play ballads all night. Anything gets monotonous". Fortunately this CD proves that a whole album of ballads is not only bearable but beautiful when Ben Webster is in the spotlight.

Tony Augarde
www.augardebooks.co.uk



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