Veteran Saxophonist Doug Webb Goes All Out With Bop & Soul-Jazz Mission Via ‘The Message’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Tenor saxophonist Doug Webb may have played more gigs than anyone, claiming to never have turned one down. He continues to be the go-to saxophonist on the Los Angeles film and television scene with over 30 years in the business, and over 500 recordings. (One publication claims that he has appeared on over one thousand records). He’s also one of the longest-tenured artists on the Posi-Tone label, retuning with The Message, his eleventh album. While most of his recordings are in a quartet configuration, here he returns to the triple saxophone lineup of his acclaimed 2015 Triple Play, albeit with a mostly different lineup which includes Greg Osby on alto, Bob Reynolds on tenor, Charles Ruggiero on drums, and returning anchor Brian Charette on organ.

While the lineup would at first glance suggest an all-out blowing session, the date is centered in a more disciplined way around the compositions, bringing more ensemble passages like a big band than a series of lengthy solos or heated exchanges. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of spirit at play in these mostly up-tempo renderings of mostly original material.   In fact, while Webb contributes just one, Reynolds offers two with Osby and Charette contributing one each, as well as Webb’s frequent collaborator, Randy Aldcroft, who doesn’t play on the album, authoring three. That leaves just three covers, the title track, Gershwin’s “I Was Doing Alright,” and “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads.”  The session invariably swings into hard bop and slight hints of soul-jazz with Charette being the linchpin on bass pedals, textured and nuance comping, concise chords to push the soloists, and his own economical statements.

They open with Webb’s “Caught in the Web” with the three saxophonists making rapid, rousing runs in just a few choruses each. There’s a clear emphasis on getting in out – strong entries, focused improvisations, and precise handoffs to the next. Osby’s’ mid-tempo “Nekide” has the composer blowing fiercely before while the other group members join intermittently just to encourage him to go further. Eventually, the tenors get their say, joining in for an eventual explosive climax.  The melodic title track follows as the horns mix ensemble parts with energetic individual statements. Charette’s organ and Ruggiero’s pulsating drumming steer the group deftly through changes like those heard on the title track. Charette sets up the mid-tempo Gershwin swinger “I Was Doing Alright” with Webb leading first to snappy snare work from Ruggiero and Osby and Reynolds follow as does Charette with his first solo opportunity.

We next have four consecutive originals, beginning with Reynolds’ “Frustration,” which opens at a blistering pace, settling in somewhat for his tenor solo before passing the baton to Osby’s frenetic cluster of notes and finally to Webb, who like, Reynolds settles it somewhat until Charrette takes up a notch in this turn as all go out with choruses of drum rolls on the eights. “Doug’s Dilemma” is the first of the three Aldcroft compositions, and we can breathe a little as Webb and company deliver the first ballad. The sound of the tenor and organ in unison on the melody is an interesting touch, just another example of how Webb deftly navigates various tempos and brings fresh perspectives to the material. “Keeping Up with the Joneses’ is taken at a steady pace although the title may suggest a brisker one. It’s another swinger. Charrette seems anxious to move into the soul-jazz mode, taking that tact with his solo and carrying the latter half of the tune in that direction. Finally, the highly melodic “New Beginning” is another mid-tempo swinger with concise statements from each front liner and Charette. 

“Baubles, Bangles & Beads” is from the 1953 musical Kismet and is most often associated with Frank Sinatra. The quintet puts plenty of juice into this rendition, a feature for Charette, with each stating the theme beautifully to the abrupt close. Reynolds’ “Where Did You Come From” weighs in as the longest rack at eight and half minutes, giving each a chance to stretch at a relaxed pace.  As he consistently does, Osby bursts in with a flurry of energy that lifts up the subsequent flights of each soloist.  When one threatens to go to stratospheric levels, it almost seems like Webb acts as a conductor, cutting off ideas then offering something else, without any hint of disengagement or loss of continuity.  Charette has the closer, “Bonnie’s Lass,” so organ centric that it conjures slight strains of soul-jazz but blossoms into one where the horns take their customary inspired flights.

One gets the impression that Webb could play virtually anything. His career reflects it and this album echoes strains that we’ve heard in jazz for the past six decades or more. These players know how to get in and get out, holding little back, saying tons with just a few impassioned choruses on most of the tracks in this joyous session.

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