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A great stylist of tenor sax

Ben Webster was second only to Coleman Hawkins in the swing age

Ultimate Ben Webster
Selected by James Carter
Rs. 125

Only Coleman Hawkins's name led Ben Webster's in the tenor saxophone department in the swing age. Webster was said to model himself on ''the Hawk'', also known as ''the Bean'', but although he often did so in his treatment of the melody line, his blowing technique was in fact unique.

The Webster sound, breathy and not as rough as the Hawk's except when he made it so on purpose, comes through clearly in almost all the numbers here. It doesn't on Boogie woogie and Who?, the first and last pieces, where Webster rests his sax to reveal an accomplished pianist! On the former he boogie-woogies la the masters of this eight-notes-to-the-bar blues style, and the latter is a polished take-off on Fats Waller, genius of stride, the percussive left-hand piano style.

The breathy sound was especially apt in the many emotional ballads that Webster liked to play. Here, they range from Billy Strayhorn's haunting Chelsea Bridge to Tenderly. They take in There is no greater love and Early autumn, on which a lush big band with strings offsets the tenor sax soloing, and others on which Webster sets his solo against a delicate piano -- as on Time after time and Ill wind. There is the up-tempo Sunday, offering an interplay between tenor and baritone sax and piano solos.

Another fast piece is Duke Ellington's Cottontail, a classic and a showcase for Webster dating from his short stint with Ellington in the early '40s. Webster carried many of the Ellington orchestra's favourites around with him for years and this number is remarkably faithful to the original version. Young Bean is probably meant, judging from the title, as a tribute to Hawkins, and the tenor sax solos are breathy and rough by turns, suggesting that Webster was being himself and mimicking the Bean alternately. It also features excellent guitar, piano and trumpet solos.

The only jarring note is struck by Don't mention my name, with its sentimental vocal chorus and absence of solos almost disqualifying it as jazz.


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