Doug Webb's newly released Sets The Standard is a textbook case of individual resourcefulness and group consonance in the context of songs often associated with the jazz tradition. For the most part, Webb, who plays tenor, stritch, and soprano sax on the record, puts his assertive, hard blowing persona on hold in favor of a somewhat laid- back, nuanced approach to the heads and to improvisation. It doesn't feel like a compromise or a concession to marketplace realities as much as another dimension of a very large, diverse talent.
Pianist Alan Broadbent makes for an ideal foil, particularly by enriching the three duo tracks, "Little Girl Blue," "Chelsea Bridge" and "Ask Me Now." While Webb plays the melodies, Broadbent is clearly an equal partner, leaving the impression of possessing a world of information at his fingertips, yet choosing his comments carefully, so as not to say too much or too little. He echoes pieces of Webb's interpretations of "Trouble Is A Man" and "Little Girl Blue." Broadbent's syncopated, chime-like chords and long, slippery single note runs inform the leader's statement of the out head of "Jitterbug Waltz."
Although everything hangs together nicely as a whole, the listener is advised not to get too comfortable, or let his/her attention lapse. Things change. In tandem, Webb and Broadbent make music that isn't dense or particularly busy, but is filled with arresting details and minute alterations of shade and texture. To cite an extreme example, "Chelsea Bridge" ranges from Broadbent's ethereal introduction to Webb's explosive cadenza.
Throughout the quartet tracks, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Paul Kreibich (whose smooth brushwork is exceptional) round out the band in fine fashion. This is not a group comprised of edgy, competing voices; rather, mutual respect rules, and especially on "Trouble Is A Man"it's a pleasure to hear each instrument operate in its own space. In the course of "Jitterbug Waltz," Smith's foundational bass line is every bit as important in the overall scheme of things as Broadbent's and the leader's solos.
The link between recent recordings in which Webb often improvises in a driven, extroverted manner and his comparatively relaxed work on Sets The Standard is the sophisticated way the saxophonist arranges his ideas. Regardless of the setting there's always continuity, design and purpose that shuns incomplete thoughts or unrelated fragments. On "These Things" (an "All The Things You Are" contrafact, and the only original composition on the record), Webb's solo is joined to the head, gradually expanding on short, silky melodies somewhat reminiscent of Paul Desmond. Brief double time runs suddenly take flight and then land smoothly, adding spice, yet leaving the solo's flow intact throughout "Jitterbug Waltz." "Ask Me Now" often features Webb's long, graceful lines, and leaves space for Broadbent's interjections in the lower and upper ends of the keyboard.
The various ways that Webb, Broadbent, Smith and Kreibich breathe new life into standards is a welcome change from recordings filled with abstract or doctrinaire compositions with little or no connection to real human emotions. Filled with enlightened individual and group expression, Sets The Standard welcomes listeners of all persuasions.
My Shining Hour; Trouble Is A Man; Star Eyes; Little Girl Blue; These Things; Gone
With The Wind; Jitterbug Waltz; Chelsea Bridge; Ask Me Now; I Remember You.
Doug Webb: tenor, stritch, soprano sax; Alan Broadbent: piano; Putter Smith:
bass; Paul Kreibich: drums.