In the lexicon of jazz tenor saxophonists, there are three main tributaries. Coleman Hawkins is best known for his majesterial harmonies; Lester Young for his linear swing, and Ben Webster mastered the thick, rich and at times raucous tone that launched a thousand R&B honking ships. This album captures the Ellington alumnus, tenor titan and pool hustler in a 1970 Norwegian concert with Tore Sandnaes/p, Bjorn Alterhaug/b, and Kjell Johansen/dr, and while the supporting team is picture perfect in submission, and Sandnaes has wonderful (if under-mic’d) fingerwork on his solos, the backup band serves as simple intermissions between Webster’s glorious growls on swinging pieces like “In A Mellotone” and “I Got Rhythm.” Mixing standards with Ellingtonia, Webster delivers a bel canto take of “Danny Boy” on moment and stretching out on “Perdido” like a master of melody. Sure, you may have heard him do these songs on other recordings, but does that mean you’re not going to order a Margherita pizza every night you’re in Naples? Gimme a break! Go tell Mozart you’re tired of his 39th!
And if you think Webster was just stuck in the swing tradition, give a listen to his lion-like roar on “Sunday.” He makes Albert Ayler sound like Kenny G, for Pete’s sake! This is music that is as life affirming as freshly picked blueberries. You can feel the anti oxidants enter your body with each note.