Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Ben Webster: King of the Tenors [Verve, 1993]
Less adventurous than Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins but equally august, the Duke Ellington star turned Norman Granz fixture has been overlooked by compilers. So having absorbed the big-band Cotton Tail and the three-albums-by-three-different-leaders Soul of Ben Webster double, I'll be reaching for this simple 1954 combo LP plus three bonus cuts--including an alternate take of a self-penned blues that bypasses Oscar Peterson and Sweets Edison to give Ben more room, which he fills like the elephant he is, half honk and half heavy breathing. Yet believe it or not he wasn't a blues specialist--what made him famous was grand, intimate, sexier-than-Don Byas ballads like "Tenderly" and the twice-told "That's All." A professional and a man of his time, Webster liked brass and strings. But he was at his best helming pre-bop small bands. That this one happens to feature Benny Carter is a lagniappe. A+