A little romantic jazz. Five old pros who in 1962 had zero left to prove but chops to burn and the music in their blood. The sound quality on the remastered Columbia recording is still excellent. I pretty much like anything Sweets Edison ever put on record—listen to the little cap he puts on "My Romance" (a particularly nice version of that one here—the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD calls this version "very close to definitive")—and regardless of whether you love or just like Ben Webster's breathy Lester Young-ish tone and neo-Coleman-Hawkinsesque phrasing (I don't know anybody who dislikes Ben), 1/3rd* of the then-long-awaited meeting of these two swing-band veterans makes for forty very pleasant minutes of music. With George Duvivier on bass.
The only one of the quintet who doesn't stretch much is Clarence Johnston (no relation) on drums, but the cause of that impression might be that I've been listening to a lot of records led by drummers recently (like Shelley Manne's 2-3-4 which is grrrreat) where the drums are in their glory. Hank Jones on piano is particularly on form.
Ben Webster was Duke Ellington's tenor man during WWII—and he was the subject of a great album cover, a painting by Scott Gillis on an obscure Verve compilation called "Ballads" (above left. I had to buy it just for the cover art). "Sweets" Edison, a hard-cutting trumpet player who was with Count Basie for 13 years, was competitive and tended to get the best out of people he played with, if they'd rise to his challenges. Check out his record with Buddy Rich for a rollicking virtuoso one-upsmanship fest. Best thing Rich ever did. There's more collegiality than competitiveness on Ben and Sweets, though.
This isn't the absolute first Ben Webster recommendation—if you had only one Webster recording in your collection, it would have to be Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson (yes, ahead of the more famous Soulville—by just one slot). But I'd put it in the top five. Okay ten.
I love "Kitty." Go download that one song from iTunes or eMusic as a sample, if you want. Listen carefully to the sax. Deceptive.
Ben and "Sweets." Cheap ($5.94) on iTunes, very cheap ($6.99) as hard copy, and available on eMusic.
And I have to say, gentlemen, nice hats.
*They made two other records together in the same era as this one.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Ryan Paternite: "Thanks for posting this Mike. I'm always encouraged by how many photographers (and visual artists generally) are also jazz fans. I've always particularly liked Hank Jones playing on this record. Here's a photo of Hank from his last performance at Birdland, where I work, from August 2009: