Most Ben Webster albums on the market today seem to be reissues from his magnificent autumnal years, majestically lush or bearishly brusque. It's good to have a chronological sampling of Webster's work from the mid-'40s, in order to appreciate exactly how he developed into the Ben Webster of 1959 and 1969. After popping up on early big band swing records by Bennie Moten and Willie Bryant, Webster came into his own as the first really exceptional tenor saxophonist to be featured with Duke Ellington's Orchestra. What we have here is the post-Ellington Ben Webster. His tone has gotten bigger and wider, grittily sensuous and invariably warm like a pulse in the jugular. The first eight tracks were made for radio broadcast purposes in February of 1944. The combination of Hot Lips Page and Ben Webster is a bitch. There are strolling romps with titles like "Woke Up Clipped," "Dirty Deal" and "'Nuff Said," lively stomps built on to the changes of "Tea for Two" and "I Got Rhythm," and two choice examples of Webster developing his ballad chops. "Perdido," from a quartet session recorded near the end of March 1944, is positively stunning. Webster has definitely tapped into something primal, and no one can hear him without being at least partially transformed by the sounds of his saxophone. April Fool's day, 1944 found Webster in the company of tenors Budd Johnson and Walter "Foots" Thomas, with trumpeter Emmett Berry and a modern rhythm section. "Broke but Happy" is a sweet jaunt, real solid, especially when the saxes take over in unison. But the main reason to get your own copy of Classics 1017 is to have the Savoy session of April 17th, 1944. Gracefully accompanied by Johnny Guarnieri, Oscar Pettiford and David Booth, Webster blows four of the greatest three-minute recordings of his entire career. "Kat's Fur" is a goosed up, improved version of "'Nuff Said." "I Surrender Dear" runs even deeper than the two other versions included on this disc. "Honeysuckle Rose" and especially "Blue Skies" each represent Ben Webster at his toughest and truest. This is a rare blend of musk, and it's not synthetic. It's the real thing.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf