Ben Webster And “Sweets” Edison – Columbia (1962)/ ORG – SACD

Ben Webster And “Sweets” Edison – Columbia (1962)/ Original Recordings Group ORG 117-3 (2015) stereo-only SACD, 39:37 ****:

(“Sweets” Edison – trumpet; Ben Webster – tenor saxophone; Hank Jones – piano; George Duvivier – bass; Clarence Johnson – drums)

Occasionally when two gifted jazz musicians record together, there is an innate chemistry. Ben Webster became a giant on tenor saxophone in his era (along with Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins) as a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Harry “Sweets Edison” earned his stripes as a key member of the Count Basie Orchestra. Both were influential soloists and featured performers. They represented a pinnacle of bop, hard bop and third stream. Additionally they were legendary jazz “characters”, Webster for his bellicose nature (nicknamed “The Brute”) and Edison for his considerable talents as a Don Juan. What they had in common was the respect and admiration of their peers. The duo had collaborated previously on Sweets (1956) and Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good For You (1958). Here they reunited again.

Origin Recordings Group has released an SACD of the 1962 Columbia album, Ben And Sweets. [We  reviewed this on ORG 45 rpm vinyls back in 2013…Ed.] Backing up the iconic duo is Hank Jones (piano) George Duvuvier (double bass) and Clarence Johnson (drums). And this quintet plays well together. The opening song (a Webster original) is exemplary jazz swing. After a  half-minute unison opening, Edison breaks out with a crisply punctuated solo. He pushes the tonality for nearly three minutes. Then Duvivier takes over on doublebass, before handing it over to Webster who offers a rhythmic, soulful performance. Clarence Johnson’s tempo is steady and anchors Duvivier and Hank Jones who contributes a sprightly run. The group finishes with Edison and Webster returning to unison lead.

Ballads are part of any saxophonist’s repertoire and selecting Gershwin is always a safe bet. “How Long Has This Been Going On” is a showcase for the sentimental, lyrical talent of Webster. His sultry, vibrato-laced notation captures a wistful, romantic tone. The song is represented in a quartet (minus Edison). But the quintet returns with a finger-snapping blues opus (an Edison composition), “Kitty”. Sweets, (after the trumpet/sax unison opening), gets things started with a saucy, fluent run and is followed by the fuller Webster solo (with an effective trill at its conclusion) that is potent. Jones’ solo feels like a hard bop piano trio with Duvivier and Johnson driving the music.

“The Brute” covers the Rodgers/Hart standard, “My Romance” with palpable finesse and melodic eloquence. There is a delicacy and meditative quality in this interpretation. It is another basic quartet (although there is a trumpet accent at the end). Jones’ elegant style complements Webster. Alternating ballads with tempo, “Did You Call Her Today” reconvenes medium swing as Sweets initiates things with his suppleness before the nastier Webster dynamics take over. At the 5:38 mark, Hank Jones constructs a nimble solo that sets up the muscular ending. On “Embraceable You” (a trumpet/quartet arrangement), Sweets Edison demonstrates his artistic range and virtuosity, breathing new life into an often-covered tune.

Ben Webster And “Sweets” Edison, while not groundbreaking, is consistently tuneful and quintessential jazz listening. This SACD has luxurious sound. Webster’s full-bodied saxophone is densely rich, and the sharper tones of the trumpet are prominent, but never shrill. The stereo sound mix is balanced, although Jones’ piano levels seem to fluctuate at times.

TrackList: Better Go; How Long Has This Been Going On; Kitty; My Romance; Did You Call Her Today; Embraceable You

—Robbie Gerson

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