A photograph on the inside of Soulville
's CD cover shows Webster with his head tilted back, eyelids drooping and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. It’s a great photo, simply because Webster approaches soloing in much the same way. A relaxed and patient improviser who first made his name with Ellington’s band playing one definitive solo after another, the tenor saxophonist really blossomed once he struck out as a solo artist where he wasn’t boxed in by the confines of the big band.
From the very first note of this 1957 classic, you know that you’re listening to Websterhe possesses a style consisting of sweeping phrases that end with a fluttering vibrato, sometimes using nothing but airand no tune is ever taken faster than a loping gait. Befitting the title, the first two tunes are blues played with a lot of grease and vinegar, but once we get to the ballads, like “Ill Wind,” Webster creates a mood of beautiful smoky melancholy using only a handful of notes.
The Oscar Peterson Trio provides restrained backing (Herb Ellis getting more space than usual) with Stan Levey added to provide some light stickwork for gentle swing. Of marginal interest are the bonus tracks, which feature Webster at the piano; they’re decent enough boogie woogie, but don’t really fit in with the rest of the set. Soulville is a classic recording from one of jazz’s greatest artists, a romantic and sentimental masterpiece.
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Personnel: Ben Webster-tenor sax, piano on #8-10; Oscar Peterson-piano; Ray Brown-bass; Herb Ellis-guitar;