Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band


It took until the mid-twenties, with the advent of electrical recording, to accurately get the measure of a full band, low end included. But few bassists (or tuba players) had led or jumped a band’s rhythm with the alertness of Jimmy Blanton, who played with Ellington between 1939 and 1941 (he left due to terminal illness and died in July 1942, only twenty-three). The pre-War edition of the Ellington Orchestra featured Blanton and tenor saxophone star Ben Webster, whose first tour with Ellington covered 1939-43, also the span of this set. The material was first anthologized in 1986, on the 66-song, three-disc Blanton-Webster Band box; this 2003 update, containing nine more songs, features a remastering job that, even through a stream, is startlingly bright and clear. So much to bask in here: Webster going ham on “Cotton Tail” and sighing over “Across the Track Blues”; Blanton asserting himself on “Jack the Bear”; the whole of “Take the ‘A’ Train,” maybe the greatest recording of the Twentieth Century’s first half. Decades on from my first encounter, new favorites keep emerging.

Michaelangelo Matos