To hear Booker Ervin as the leading solo voice on a recording with a larger ensemble is a treat, not only for his fans, but for those interested in modern big-band sounds grown from the bop era that are flavored with urban blues. A trio of different sessions done at Webster Hall in New York City features groups ranging from ten to eleven pieces, with personnel switched up, and no supplemental saxophonists. Freddie Hubbard is the only other soloist besides Ervin, the trombone section features top-rate players Bennie Green, Britt Woodman, and Garnett Brown, and the rhythm section of pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Reggie Johnson, and drummer Lenny McBrowne is as solid as can be. The session is based entirely on themes dedicated to major cities in the U.S.
Three versions of "L.A. After Dark," featuring different solos from Hubbard, are included on the CD version, written by the arranger of the date Teddy Edwards, a quintessential uptown homage to his adopted home. Ervin's "East Dallas Special" - a mix of "Night Train" and "Sister Sadie" - and the short, tuneful Jerry Lieber-Mike Stoller penned hit of Wilbert Harrison's "Kansas City," and the energetic 12-bar "St. Louis Blues" all shuffle along, powered by the soulful McBrowne. Four typical standards are included, with Ervin's tart-sweet post-John Coltrane saxophone sound undeniably leading the way. "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" is a slow spare horn chart accented by the booming bass of Johnson, while "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" is a polite and heartfelt treatment of this all-time favorite. "Harlem Nocturne" is quite dissimilar from the Joe Harnell hit version of the era, this one approximating tango proportions. Closest to true big-band regalia, "Salt Lake City" depicts a not very jazzy or bluesy city with a sophistication that suggests the best progressive charts of Duke Ellington, and especially Oliver Nelson, with two-note horn shout-outs. While the charts of Edwards and the emphasis on brass instruments holds interest, the overall sounds are only somewhat arresting. Ervin is the straw that stirs this tasteful martini, but he is heard to better effect on his numerous small ensemble recordings, and especially his work with Charles Mingus.