The Complete Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster (1959)
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Mulligan recorded several "meets" albums with jazz greats, but this one with Webster is by far the best. The mood is relaxed but continually fascinating because the solos are sublime and the band, with their steady warm groove, is completely sympathetic. And they really do sound like a band, not just soloists with a thrown-together rhythm section (as was sometimes the case on sessions from the \’50s and early \’60s). That breathy tone of Webster\’s, which he perfected during the \’50s, is on full display here. Here\’s a guy who started as a disciple of Coleman Hawkins in the 1930s, then developed his own unique sound and in my opinion surpassed Hawkins. From the moment he begins "Chelsea Bridge", you will be hooked. Mulligan proves to be a great foil, the way he sounds simultaneously traditional and modern. And the quality hardly drops when the under-rated pianist Jimmy Rowles gets his turn. Several of the titles were not included with the original LP from 1959 and the high quality is maintained throughout. Webster even gives us his growling sound on "For Bessie". I will say, this double CD with all those alternate takes, will not really be necessary for most listeners. The original single CD, which contained over 70 minutes of music (including those new bonus titles), should do the trick. But either way, this is an absolute winner.
Gerald Joseph "Gerry" Mulligan (April 6, 1927 – January 20, 1996) was an American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, composer and arranger.
Though Mulligan is primarily known as one of the leading baritone saxophonists in jazz history – playing the instrument with a light and airy tone in the era of cool jazz – he was also a notable arranger, working with Claude Thornhill, Miles Davis, Stan Kenton, and others. Mulligan\’s pianoless quartet of the early 1950s with trumpeter Chet Baker is still regarded as one of the more important cool jazz groups. Mulligan was also a skilled pianist and played several other reed instruments.
This 1959 recording brings together two fine musicians from worlds that one might not usually connect, with Gerry Mulligan\’s light and airy baritone representing the "cool" and Ben Webster\’s richly burred tenor possibly standing for the epitome of a very "warm" swing. When this was recorded, however, the quintet was actually a working band. Mulligan had a profound appreciation of Webster\’s talent, and the two shared an affection for the music of Duke Ellington and his composing partner Billy Strayhorn, both of whom are represented here. With the accomodating Jimmy Rowles on piano and the fine rhythm team of bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Mel Lewis, this is consummate small-group jazz that\’s beyond classification. There\’s something unique in the ensemble sound of the two horns, with all the gravity concentrated in the higher tenor, but this is very much a blowing session, with Webster at his lyric and passionate best. The two-CD set offers a host of alternate takes that are a fine display of the improvisers\’ art.
Ben Webster (ts), Gerry Mulligan (bar), Jimmie Rowles (p), Leroy Vinnegar (sb), Mel Lewis (dm).
December 2, 1959.