Ben Webster and Joe Zawinul, Soulmates (Original Jazz Classics)
Saxophonist Gary Foster recently asked if I remembered the liner notes that Bill Evans wrote for the 1963 Ben Webster-Joe Zawinul album Soulmates. Gary’s question led to the discovery that my LP of that treasure had somehow migrated off the shelves. I immediately ordered a CD replacement. Evans wrote infrequently, but when he did—unsurprisingly—his way with words had much in common with the evocativeness and intellectual rigor of his piano inventions. The most famous of Evans’s regrettably few ventures into written language was for the Miles Davis Sextet’s Kind Of Blue (1959). Addressing the challenge of group improvisation, his commentary offered this thought, which has been widely quoted:
Aside from the weighty technical problem of collective coherent thinking, there is the very human, even social need for sympathy from all members to bend for the common result.
In 1963, producer Orrin Keepnews asked Evans to write notes for Soulmates, a collaboration of the great tenor saxophonist Ben Webster and the young Austrian pianist Joe Zawinul. That was seven years before Zawinul and Wayne Shorter formed their influential group Weather Report. In his essay, Evans returned at greater length to the matter of jazz group improvisation. He distinguished between it and formal composition:
The great composers as we know them may have been forced to many compromises in style because of the necessity of notating in such a way that the interpretive link could be used to preserve their music for future generations.
I was led to these thoughts, and to the others that follow here, as the magnificent maturity of Webster’s music impressed itself on my mind. The great emotional scope revealed by a craft couched in simplicity is an accomplishment not easily measured, and those who do not react to anything but the spectacular or complex deserve to miss the deep satisfactions that can be gained from such an honest and mature artist.
This comment also applies to the work of Joe Zawinul and of the other players here, for each is a proven jazz performer of the first rank.
The other musicians were Thad Jones, cornet; Sam Jones, bass on four tracks; Richard Davis, bass on four tracks; Philly Joe Jones, drums. On “Soulmates,” the title piece, written by Webster, Sam Jones is the bassist.
Digitally remastered, Soulmates has remained in the Riverside OJC catalog——a splendid idea.