Ben Webster – Live At Pio’s – Enja Records ENJA 2038 (1974)/Pure Pleasure Records (2021) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 32:52 ****:
(Ben Webster – tenor saxophone; Junior Mance – piano; Bob Cranshaw – double bass; Mickey Roker – drums)
A rare 1964 American live performance by Ben Webster gets a vinyl upgrade from Pure Pleasure Records.
Kansas City native Ben Webster had a varied music training. Before becoming an elite tenor saxophonist, he trained on violin and piano. In his early career, he played in bands led by Lester Young, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson and Teddy Wilson. When he joined The Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1940, his jazz presence was elevated. After his volatile tenure with Ellington, Webster recorded as a band leader and sideman with many jazz legends, including Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Peterson and Gerry Mulligan (to name a few), primarily for the Verve label. Like other contemporaries, Webster moved to Europe, living in England and Denmark. He performed and recorded until his death in 1973. Among the many Ben Webster anecdotal facts was that he played the same saxophone from 1938-1973.
Pure Pleasure Records has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of a Ben Webster club date, Live At Pio’s. Recorded at Pio’s Lodge (Providence, Rhode Island) in 1964, it didn’t see the light of day until 1974, when it was issued on a small German label, Enja Records. Side 1 opens with the up tempo number, “Cookin’ For T”. It is clear that this “classic” quartet (Junior Nance/piano; Bob Cranshaw/double bass; Mickey Roker/drums) is prepared to swing with hard bop grit. Webster’s muscular lead on tenor stretches out the sax tonality, as the capable rhythm section keeps things jumping. Nance percolates on piano and complements double bassist Cranshaw’s solo. Roker’s drumming is lively (including some fills) and fuels the energetic performance. “Gone With The Wind” is more relaxed, but still moves at a jaunty pace. Webster’s tenor is full-bodied and crisp, and Nance executes another articulate run. Webster revisits his 1959 collaboration with Oscar Peterson on “Sunday”. The two soloists engage in numerous hot licks and intuitive jazzy repartee as the quartet races on.
There has always been a tradition in the jazz world to reinvent popular music. “Pennies From Heaven” began as a radio-friendly ditty for Bing Crosby. However, there have been inventive covers from the likes of Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz and Louis Prima. The quartet (this time led by Nance) breezily romps through this version. Webster embraces the last verse with warmth and space. Reaching into The Great American Songbook, “How Long Has This Been Going On?” is a definite change of pace. Webster’s feathery touch distills the palpable melancholy of the tune. It begins as a more structured instrumental, but Nance edgy articulation of right hand notation and sweeping chords lead to a subtle uptick in rhythm. At 6:32, it is the longest track on the album and showcases the dynamics of this combo. The finale “Sometimes I’m Happy” is vampy blues with attitude. The festive resonance is compelling and Webster’s assured runs flow organically.
Pure Pleasure Records has done a credible job in re-mastering Ben Webster – Live At Pio’s to 180-gram vinyl. Despite the unavoidable “flat” mix of a small club, the updated sound is balanced. The pressing has little surface noise and no hisses or pops.
Side 1: Cookin’ For T; Gone With The Wind; Sunday
Side 2: Pennies From Heaven; How Long Has This Been Going On?; Sometimes I’m Happy.
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