SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Ben Webster and Associates – Verve/Universal (1959)/ Original Recordings Group (2-45 rpm vinyls)

Look and listen to that front line of saxes!

Published on July 4, 2012

Ben Webster and Associates – Verve/Universal (1959)/Original Recordings Group ORG 116 (In a Mellow Tone, Young Bean, Budd Johnson, Time After Time, De-Dar) – 2-45 rpm vinyl discs *****:

(Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins & Budd Johnson – tenor saxes; Roy Eldridge – trumpet; Jimmy Jones – piano; Leslie Spann – guitar; Jo Jones – drums; Ray Brown – doublebass)

Wow! Look at the front line of saxes!  This early stereo recording happened almost by accident, putting the two oldsters who had really paid their dues together with the youngest of the trio, Budd Johnson, who even had one track named for him. Ben Webster had walked into a grill just off Broadway, and ran into Budd. He told him of the impending date in the studio with Hawkins and said “What are you doing at 2:30 tomorrow?” Johnson had no plans, so Webster said “OK, bring your sax and we’ll all be on the date together.”

And this is it! In spite of the tendency of early stereo sessions to be all left and right with a big hole in the middle, the three saxes are evenly laid out across the terrific soundstage. (Perhaps some judicious mixing was done in the remastering.) There’s little difficulty in identifying the unique styles of the three saxists. Ben was playing in the Ellington band when In a Mellow Tone was premiere in 1940. It’s my personal favorite of the five tracks. There’s a knockout bass solo by steadfast Ray Brown, and Leslie Spann achieves Django-like octave playing on his great solo. Ben’s deep and rich solo near the end is something to behold. And the sonics…What can I say? You can easily ignore the fine print on the album: “Unfortunately, some technical defects made cannot be completely eliminated with diminishing parts of the music.” Certainly couldn’t hear a one in this 53-year-old recording.

While beautifully remastered at the ultimate two-channel format of 45 rpm vinyl, and presented with completely readable jacket notes as on the original LP, the ORG listing of the tracks is completely fouled up. The order of the tracks is as I’ve listed in the heading above, and Side D does not contain two tracks but a repeat of Side A:  In a Mellow Tone, since only three sides were required to convert the original 33⅓ material to 45 rpm. As with all these 45 rpm audiophile vinyls, is the high cost worth it? If you have a high-end turntable and the music is on your “can’t miss” list, Yes!

—John Henry




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