One has to wonder if Ben Webster ever led a bad session, or hell, even played on one. Webster, while recognized by jazz aficionados as a master improviser and technician, is hardly a household name, despite the fact that of all the Ellington tenor alumni, he was the most consistent in his output as a leader. As for this volume, the licenses on this material are all held by Verve and Mercury despite the fact that the first of these, under the moniker Ben Webster and "His Orchestra," was issued on the Norgran label in December of 1953. The band on these six selections -- all standards, including "Pennies From Heaven," and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" -- included Harry "Sweets" Edison, Benny Carter in the alto chair, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, and Oscar Peterson, in an uncharacteristically spare and tasteful performance. The second recording date, which was issued on the Clef label seven months prior to the first, included Ellington's "Cotton Tail," and Webster's own "Poutin'," and was played by a quintet that included Barney Kessel and J.C. Heard. This is Webster at his hard yet smooth swinging best. Heard's pulse is so bright and airy it's infectious. The last session here was the first one recorded, in January of 1953, in typical -- and confounding -- Jazz Factory fashion: the entire disc is presented in reverse order. Webster is showcased in an orchestra setting, of which he was co-leader with Johnny Richards. But it is his interactions with the stellar rhythm section of Billy Taylor, bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Jo Jones on Richards' "Hoot," and "Iron Man," that are so remarkable. This is essential Webster, full on and in full possession of the powers that made him such a singular and necessary talent.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek