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  Listen Up! 5/15/03 Listen Up!

Thursday, May 15

The Ben Webster Quintet, “Soulville,” Verve Records. What a great record. Webster blows that tenor like a series of the softest, freshest sheets falling all over your naked body on a cool night. He is the essence of elegance, and he is surrounded here by incredibly supportive players. Oscar Peterson’s piano just tickles the harmonies. Herb Ellis offers some insistive blues chords, and otherwise simply lays down some effective counterpoint to Webster’s tenor. The rhythm section has the masterful Ray Brown on bass and the always delightful Stan Levey on drums. Did I mention this is a great record? The CD reissue now comes with three bonus cuts of Webster playing some boogie inspired piano. Not exactly in keeping with the mood of the album itself, but a lot of fun nonetheless.

Rory Gallagher, “Wheels Within Wheels,” Buddha Records. Gallagher is, of course, justifiably known for his powerful rock’n’blues material, but he was interested in a lot of other music, as well. Before he died, he planned to put together an acoustic-based album of collaborations with folk guitar masters like Martin Carthy and Bert Jansch. There were a few recordings done, and now we have an album collecting them with a lot of other acoustic based odds and ends from throughout Gallagher’s career. For the most part, this is gorgeous stuff, showing Gallagher had more chops than we ever even thought, no matter how great we always thought he was. Special time machine plans: A short tour many years ago featured Gallagher, David Lindley, Richard Thompson, and somebody named Juan Martin. There’s a duet here between Gallagher and Martin, but I need to go back to the past and catch these shows, which had to be spectacular, as all these guys mixed and matched performances with each other.

Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Carmen McRae, “The Real Ambassadors,” Columbia Records. Of course, anything Armstrong sings is at least a cut above anything else, but aside from some occasional jive humor, this is not something that holds up. The album was put together in 1962 to celebrate the ways jazz musicians were being used as cultural ambassador by the government. Not exactly chock full of good tunes, the lyrics can freak you out, and it doesn’t help in my book to have to hear Lambert, Hendricks & Ross bring their cloying harmonies to the mix. Of historical interest to be sure, but not really something to play for pleasure.

David Lee Roth, “Diamond Dave,” Magna Carta Records. When Dave sang Louis Prima’s “Just a Gigolo” back in the 80s, it was a bold statement, a conjunction of modern machismo with the old-fashioned style, and further proof, as if it were needed, of his senses of style and humor. This, on the other hand, is a desperate attempt to grab some credibility with the blues/rock audience that loves Peter Wolf. Never mind the fact that Peter Wolf’s last album, as great as it was, probably didn’t sell much at all. Dave just doesn’t have an affinity for these songs, and he doesn’t have musicians capable of doing much beyond creating slightly above-average karaoke level backing for them. Maybe the silliest record of the year.

--Steve Pick

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