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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/JOHNNY HODGES

Complete 1960 Sextet
Jazz Cellar Session

Solar 4569895

 

 


1. Ben's Web
2. Side Door (Don't Kid Yourself)
3. Blues'll Blow Your Fuse
4. I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me
5. Dual Highway
6. Big Ears
7. Shorty Gull
8. Ifida
9. Big Smack
10. I'd Be There
11. Just Another Day
12. Lollalagin Now
13. Exactly Like You
14. I'm Beginning To See The Light
15. Val's Lament
16. Tipsy Joe
17. Waiting On The Champagne

Ben Webster - Tenor sax
Johnny Hodges - Alto sax
Lou Levy - Piano (tracks 1-12)
Herb Ellis - Guitar (tracks 1-12)
Wilfred Middlebrooks - Bass (tracks 1-12)
Gus Johnson - Drums (tracks 1-12)
Ray Nance - Trumpet (tracks 13-17)
Lawrence Brown - Trombone (tracks 13-17)
Emil Richards - Vibes (tracks 13-17)
Russ Freeman - Piano (tracks 13-17)
Joe Mondragon - Bass (tracks 13-17)
Mel Lewis - Drums (tracks 13-17)

 

This 1960 set is said to be the only recording session on which Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges were the only two horn players. At least, that applies to the first dozen tracks. The last five come from an octet session recorded a year later. The first twelve were recorded at the Jazz Cellar in San Francisco; the last five were recorded somewhere in Los Angeles.

The line-up gives Webster and Hodges the chance to show their paces without much interference. In fact they had played together in the Duke Ellington Orchestra for various periods from 1935 onwards, so they knew one another closely, and their empathy comes through on these sides. You might say that Hodges is to the alto sax what Ben Webster is to the tenor. Their distinctive saxophones blend well together, even though they have slightly different styles. They both actually have a sweet legato style of playing, although Webster can get gruff and growly when he wants to. Their main similarity is that they both aim for (and achieve) mellowness of tone - and they can both swing with the greatest of ease. The staccato single notes of guitarist Herb Ellis contrast nicely with the saxists' predominantly smooth mode.

I knew the name of Wilfred Middlebrooks already but hadn't realised before what a solid and driving bassist he is. Note his powerful tone in such tracks as Side Door and I'll Be There. Lou Levy contributes some clear-flowing piano solos, and Gus Johnson plays a couple of short outspoken drum solos.

Two other Ellingtonians - Ray Nance and Lawrence Brown - join Webster and Hodges for the last eight tracks, with a different rhythm section and the addition of vibist Emil Richards, who broadens the sound palette. But the main attractions are still the two saxophonists, starring in a leisurely Exactly Like You and an upbeat Tipsy Joe, which matches the best of the small-group Ellington recordings of the thirties and forties. Talk about a dream team: Webster and Hodges must be one of the best.

Tony Augarde

www.augardebooks.co.uk



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