Adrian Cox and Joe Webb – Both Sides Now
(A.P.P Records. Album review by Denny Ilett)
Adrian Cox (clarinet) and Joe Webb (piano) are two young musicians with a deep love, respect and understanding of jazz from an era when it was played, as Jelly Roll Morton insisted, “soft, sweet and plenty rhythm!”
Drawing on their combined influences of Jelly Roll, Sidney Bechet, Barney Bigard, Art Tatum and other early masters, Cox and Webb have produced an album that sums up Morton’s requirements perfectly.
With the emphasis firmly on a melodic path, the duo demonstrate a sense of connection and sensitivity that, at times, makes the listener feel as though they’re eavesdropping on a private conversation – but without that sense of exclusivity that can sometimes plague jazz.
Indeed, this is music crafted purely for the listener, the way it was in those early days from the 1920s through the 40s, and it’s an approach that will satisfy jazz lovers as much as it will those that consider themselves not to be. Despite their obvious virtuosity, Cox and Webb are careful not to alienate but to include the consumer; a very refreshing thing in this day and age of introverted and introspective music.
Alongside staples from the Great American Songbook such as Night & Day, Besame Mucho, Running Wild and Old Fashioned Love there are less-often heard pieces with Jelly Roll Morton’s New Orleans Bump, Sidney Bechet’s Si Tu Vois Ma Mère, Barney Bigard’s beautiful Lull At Dawn and Jaki Byard’s Dedicated To Bob Vatel Of The Ten Gallons worthy of special mention. The title track is, as one might assume, a reworking of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now which Cox and Webb have turned into a semi-rhapsodic ballad; Webb’s rolling piano chords underpinning Cox’s respectful reading of the melody. It’s an interpretation that doesn’t require an improvised solo and, thankfully, it doesn’t get one here as Cox succeeds in letting the melody alone have the spotlight.
Adrian Cox is clearly demonstrating his devotion to the great New Orleans clarinet tradition throughout these ten tracks. It’s his dedication to continuing this important lineage that caught the ear of Wynton Marsalis who has, twice now, invited him to perform with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. It’s hard to think of anyone playing this style of clarinet so honestly and authentically in the 21st Century apart from Evan Christopher from New Orleans itself. Cox reminds us that the clarinet is a true ‘specialist’ instrument and not, as is often the case nowadays, an occasional ‘double’ for saxophonists.
Joe Webb is firmly in the ‘rising star’ category. A graduate of the Welsh College and probably best known for his involvement in the Kansas Smitty’s organisation, Webb seems ripe now to assert himself as a prominent soloist. Recently described by David Newton as “extraordinary”, Webb’s assimilation of the early ‘stride’ piano stylings of Jelly Roll Morton and James P Johnson coupled with his Tatum-esque technique have to be heard to be believed!
As a duo, these two have an almost telepathic understanding. The dynamic interplay heard on this album is that often missed ingredient that distinguishes the good from the truly special. It’s clear these two have spent a lot of time together playing and discussing their music; the result of which is an intimate and very beautiful experience for the listener. It’s sometimes a shame that virtuosity is often presented in tandem with seriousness. With Adrian Cox and Joe Webb you get virtuosity with a smile; just as those old masters from the early days would have liked!
LINKS: Adrian Cox website