1953: An Exceptional Encounter

The Modern Jazz Quartet / Ben Webster

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1953: An Exceptional Encounter Review

by Ken Dryden

Recorded over two nights at an unnamed club, this rare meeting of Ben Webster and the Modern Jazz Quartet evidently originated from a radio aircheck. In spite of the fact that the audio balance is somewhat inconsistent, the playing by everyone is exemplary throughout both sessions. Webster, whose performances sometimes suffered from his bouts of heavy drinking, seems particularly stimulated by the driving piano of John Lewis and bluesy vibes of Milt Jackson. In addition to the swing standards for which the tenor saxophonist was well known, he tackles Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" and "Billie's Bounce" with equal enthusiasm. Other selections include ballad features such as "Danny Boy" and "The Nearness of You," the latter showcasing Webster's rich, big tone. Romps through "Oh Lady Be Good" and "Cotton Tail" (one of many recordings of this Duke Ellington masterpiece that is forever associated with Webster) are a delight. Unfortunately, the liner notes concentrate on a biography of Webster and provide no explanation as to how this encounter came about.

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