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Ben Webster’s distinctive sound was on full display when
I heard “Soulville,” a 1957 recording by The Ben Webster
Quintet, produced by Norman Granz for the Verve label.
The cuts consisted primarily of ballads and easy-going,
swing tunes, such as “Makin’ Whoopee,” “Soulville,” and
“Lover, Come Back to Me.” Webster’s sound was big, sexy
and “woolly,” and I’ve noticed that his solos often contain
introductory glissandi when he begins a phrase. There is
also a lot of air that escapes between his lips and the
mouthpiece, which is particularly noticeable when
he’s closely miked.

These characteristic Webster trademarks don’t detract
from the music making found on this congenial and
satisfying release. Here, he’s backed by the Oscar
Peterson Trio with the addition of Stan Levey on drums.
A more sympathetic rhythm section would be hard
to imagine.

This 1989 digitally remastered CD also includes three
previously unreleased tracks at the end, “Who,”
“Boogie-Woogie” and “Roses of Picardy,” which
feature Webster on piano. An accompanying essay by
Phil Schaap explains that Webster began his professional
music career as a pianist, and played for about five
years before learning the saxophone. These cuts
reveal Webster to be an able if unremarkable pianist,
and provided me with a more complete picture of this
Jazz legend. It proves that when listening to an artist,
we’re often only aware of the tip of the iceberg!

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