Ben Webster & Joe Zawinul
What initially seems like an unlikely pairing for this session delivers on its unique pedigree with performances that do full justice to tenor legend Ben Webster and to the then up and coming pianist Joe Zawinul. Recorded in 1963 while the pianist was a member of the Cannonball Adderley Sextet, the session came about as a result of Webster's and Zawinul's sharing a New York apartment for several months. It's actually billed as Zawinul's first session as leader and Webster's last in the U.S. before his move to Europe. The tunes generally keep to mid-tempos, a pace that affords Webster the opportunity to wield the gentler side of his legendary sound. His rich, nuanced tone and magnificent phrasing are superbly in evidence. Listeners only familiar with Zawinul's soul-jazz side with Adderley and later his pioneering synthesizer work with Weather Report may be surprised at his eloquent playing here in a classic style right out of Tommy Flanagan or Red Garland. The presence of Thad Jones - a legend in his own right - on cornet for four tacks is a bonus. With a rhythm section rounded out by the slightly lesser legends of drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Sam Jones, alternating with Richard Davis, there isn't one false step on this set. It may tend to the mellower side of things, but that simply means there's more opportunity to luxuriate in Webster's peerless sound.
All Music Guide
At first, the pairing of Ben Webster with pianist Joe Zawinul seems a little strange: Webster represents the old guard, the first wave of swing musicians, while Joe Zawinul represents modernity, fusion jazz, and electronic media. SOULMATES is an apt title, however; Zawinul fits in quite well with Webster's musical concepts, finding no problem in a mainstream setting.
SOULMATES may be the best recording of Webster's later years. The music is fresh and inspired, imaginative and playful. Highlights include Zawinul's own composition "Frog Legs," and Webster's piece, "The Governor." Both tunes display a musical zest that is simply contagious. The musicians sound like they're having fun, which makes for compelling listening. Thad Jones's trumpet work on four of the tunes adds still more charm to the proceedings.