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Doug Webb: Midnight

Bruce Lindsay By

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Saxophonist Doug Webb leads a superb quartet on Midnight, creating a late-night atmosphere with a hint of nostalgia on a range of classic tunes.

Webb's career stretches back for 30 years and includes work with some of the finest jazz musicians, including Bud Shanks, Horace Silver and Freddie Hubbard, as well as leading rock and pop acts including Rod Stewart. Midnight sees Webb joined by an equally talented rhythm section; the result is a true ensemble performance with every musician given the opportunity to stretch out and put their own individual stamp on the recording.

Bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Gerry Gibbs hold down the rhythmic center of the music with an inventive enthusiasm. Clarke, in particular, seems to relish his role in the traditional acoustic lineup, playing with verve. Their command of the rhythm is total, providing space and opportunity for the pianists to take on more of a lead role as well as delivering some exceptional solos.

The tunes may be familiar, but the quartet makes each one sound fresh, even when playing them in what might be termed the "standard" fashion. Alec Wilder's "I'll Be Around" finds Webb playing in a style reminiscent of fellow tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton, the solos by Webb and pianist Larry Goldings are rich and warm. By contrast, "Try a Little Tenderness," usually performed as a ballad by artists such as Otis Redding, is delivered in a swinging, up-tempo, style with a terrific tenor solo from Webb.

Clarke's solos on "Crazy She Calls Me" and Charlie Parker's "Quasimodo" are positive, precise and affecting—album highlights. He also takes the spotlight on Bart Howard's "Fly Me to the Moon." The arrangement is rather bland to that point, but Clarke's performance is an object lesson in how to play a bass solo to complement the mood of a tune. Goldings' bell-like piano chords on the closing bars of the tune are an inspired and delightful ending. "You Go To My Head" is a piano and saxophone duet, with pianist Joe Bagg playing on this tune, in a more angular and percussive contrast to Goldings elsewhere on the disc, and works exceptionally well in underpinning Webb.

The third of the album's pianists, the young Sri Lankan Mahesh Balasooriya, joins the band for "The Boy Next Door," and brings yet another distinctive style to the group. Closer to Bagg's technique than Goldings, his chordal playing is economical and unselfish, and gives Gibbs the chance to create some inventive drum patterns.

Webb puts his own musical identity on this album with confidence. His tone is welcoming, whether he's playing soprano, alto or tenor, and his solos are wonderfully melodic—every note counts, with no need to overpower the music with unnecessary displays of complex runs or techniques. Production is exceptionally good, and the trademark Posi-Tone packaging adds to the rather nostalgic feel of the music. Midnight is a triumph of thoughtful yet romantic late night jazz.

Track Listing: Try a Little Tenderness; I'll Be Around; Fly Me to the Moon; You Go To My Head; The Boy Next Door; Crazy She Calls Me; Quasimodo; Emily.

Personnel: Doug Webb: saxophones; Larry Goldings: piano (2, 3, 6-8); Stanley Clarke: bass; Gerry Gibbs: drums; Joe Bagg: piano (1, 4); Mahesh Balasooriya: piano (5).

Title: Midnight | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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