Ben Webster, Tete Montoliu Trio: Gentle Ben
Analogue Productions CAPJ 040 SA
Ben Webster (alto saxophone)
Tete Montoliu (piano)
Eric Peter (bass)
Peer Wyboris (drums)
That rich, humid, giant sax tone blooms like on few other Webster recordings.
This recording was made 10 months before Ben Webster's death in 1972. Webster, who had left the United States in 1965 to settle in Europe - first in Copenhagen and then in Amsterdam - was visiting fellow musician and friend Tete Montoliu in Barcelona. Webster and pianist Montoliu went back a ways, having played together regularly in Webster's Copenhagen days. In fact, Montoliu cited Webster and Don Byas as his two chief musical influences. Webster and Montoliu understood each other deeply, and their comfort with on another is palpable in this recording. Their accompaniment of one another is seamless. On board with these two is Montoliu's regular working trio-mates, Eric Peter on bass and Peer Wyboris on drums.
There's no shortage of Webster's trademark breathy, fat tenor tone here. In fact, given the sparse arrangement, that rich, humid, giant sax blooms like on few other recordings. Highlights include "Ben's Blues," "Sweet Georgia Brown," "The Man I Love" and "Don't Blame Me."
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Review by Mark Werlin - September 18, 2015
Unlike his contemporary Lester Young, whose alcoholism ravaged his tone and technique in the years prior to his death in 1959, Ben Webster played beautifully until the end of his life. Gentle Ben presents his artistry at a close perspective that situates the listener virtually in front of the big tenor man.
The recording was made in November 1972 in Barcelona, Spain for the Ensayo record label. It has been meticulously transferred from the original analog source by Kevin Gray. The session was one of Webster's final musical statements prior to his death less than a year later. In this session he performs a set of standards and original compositions with a colleague and friend from his long stay in Copenhagen, the Catalan pianist Tete Montoliu.
Webster's interpretive style can sound dated to contemporary listeners. He lacked the protean quality of Coleman Hawkins, whose harmonically advanced conception blended as well with composer Thelonious Monk and players steeped in bebop idiom, as with the musicians of his own generation. Webster stayed on familiar ground throughout his career, but sought out a wide variety of musical scenes and settings in the US and Europe.
There is a dearth of good critical analysis of Webster's work: the first book-length biography of this prominent jazz figure wasn't published until 2001, nearly thirty years after Webster's death, by the Dutch writer Jeroen de Valk. De Valk prefers to dwell more on Webster's infamous reputation for hard drinking, womanizing and violence, than the breadth of his artistic production. A more recent—and balanced—book is "Someone to Watch Over Me: The Life and Music of Ben Webster" by Frank Büchmann-Møller, a music historian who specializes in the Kansas City jazz scene of the 1930s and 40s. The latter extols Webster's subtlety with ballads, his lyrical melodicism and mastery of dynamics and phrasing, all of which are in evidence on Gentle Ben.
A Webster original, "My Nephew Bent", demonstrates Ben's penchant for melodic minimalism; he plays only what is needed to communicate the feel of the melody, each short phrase carefully shaped, individual notes bent, slurred, released. Tete Montoliu's comping and soloing are replete with playful musical quotes, effortless virtuosity and rhythmic drive.
The recording engineer made an ill-advised choice to mix Webster's horn way in front of the rhythm section, which creates a deep soundstage impression but forces the listener to keep a remote volume control handy. It's a drawback, and for some, will be a deal-breaker. Those who are more patient with sonic imperfection will be amply rewarded.
SACD reissues from Analogue Productions are the standard by which other reissues of classic jazz recordings should be judged. Only Audio Wave's Blue Note XRCD series are of comparable audio quality. "Gentle Ben" is no exception to Analogue's run of outstanding remastering work.
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