Ben Webster – Atmosphere For Lovers And Thieves – Black Lion Records/Pure Pleasure Records

by | Aug 2, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Ben Webster – Atmosphere For Lovers And Thieves – Black Lion Records/Pure Pleasure Records BLPP 30105 Stereo 180 gram audiophile vinyl – 1965, 37:16 ****:

(Ben Webster – tenor saxophone; Kenny Drew – piano; Alex Riel – drums; Arnved Meyer – trumpet; John Darville – trombone; Ole Kongsted – tenor saxophone; Niels Jorgen Steen – piano; Henrik Hartmann – bass; Hans Nyman – drums; Hugo Rasmussen – bass; Neils-Henning Orsted Pederson – bass)

Ben Webster holds an important position in the jazz hierarchy. Along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, he is regarded as one of the greatest swing tenor saxophonists of all time. Raised in the hard scrabble grit of Kansas City (popularized by the Robert Altman film of the same name), he rose to stardom along with other area musicians including Young and Count Basie. His stint with Duke Ellington established his unrelenting reputation for excellence. Known as “The Frog” or “Brute” his distinctive growling notation became a signature. Along with a fiery temperament, he evoked a stern (some might say ornery) countenance. Rumors of his “suit cutting” split with Ellington only added to the mystique.

After Ellington and other orchestras, he played with the likes of blues artists Jay McShann, Jimmy Witherspoon and Sid Catlett. Then he began a decade long collaboration with pianist Oscar Peterson. Subsequent pairings with Hawkins (Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster)  Art Tatum (Art Tatum Group Masterpieces) and Lionel Hampton (You Better Know It!!) enabled Webster to develop a unique style of swing, blues and balladry. He eventually moved to Copenhagen where he toured and recorded intermittently until his death in 1973. He influenced a new generation of tenors.

Atmosphere For Lovers And Thieves
was recorded in Copenhagen over four sessions with two different ensembles. Five of the tracks include the Alex Riel trio. The first of these is a smoldering cover of the Hoagy Carmichael classic, “Stardust”. Unusually tender, Webster delves into romantic interpretation with his customary vibrato-laced tenor lines. The deliberate pace highlights the depth of emotion. “What’s New” continues the idiosyncratic saxophone registers. Kenny Drew executes an agile piano solo as the group achieves a flowing reverie. Stepping out of the ballad time signature, “Autumn Leaves” captures the jazzy edge of the quartet with a stride/swing tempo. Webster gives an uplifting performance, possibly the best of the session. Equally up beat is Cole Porter’s “Easy To Love”. The rhythm section (Riel on drums and Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson on bass) is taut and provides a substantial cohesion for the instrumental soloists. The overall tone of the album evokes after hours élan. The atmospheric melody on “Yesterdays” has the languid nuance of a weary “B Movie” private detective. Webster delves into the heart of melancholy, and ends the piece with his uncanny “whisper”.

Three cuts are done with the Arnved Meyer band, utilizing a more textured approach. Duke Ellington’s “Blue Light” is a slower twelve-bar blues piece with an ensemble horn chorus (notably John Darville’s trombone) that is warm and rich. Webster’s haunting tenor lead is unforgettable. Neils Jorgen Steen contributes a delicate expressive solo on piano. A modern composition (at the time), “The Days Of Wine And Roses” builds slowly as the horns (tenor, trombone and trumpet) play a fluid counterpoint to the lead tenor. The muted trumpet (Meyer) helps to envelop the lyrical nature of this Mancini treasure. The slower tempos are inhabited by the passionately hushed tones of Webster.
For those who relish historical story lines, the liner notes include humorous anecdotes describing encounters with legendary boxer Joe Louis and the inimitable Fats Waller. The stereo quality of this record is excellent. The instrument separation is precise and the engineering creates a warm tone, especially on the tenor. This is a surprisingly romantic, almost sentimental collection from this weathered “hard” jazz man.


Side One: Blue Light; Stardust; What’s New; Autumn Leaves
Side two; Easy To Love; My Romance; Yesterdays; Days Of Wine And Roses

— Robbie Gerson

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