Joe Webb – Summer Chill
(Ubuntu Music . Album review by Denny Ilett)
As jazz strove to retain its relevance in the 1960’s, and whether through desire or record company insistence, artists began to release music with a more ‘commercial’ musical angle. One thinks of Ellington’s ‘Mary Poppins’ suite and Basie’s albums of both Beatles and Bond themes. Louis Armstrong released an album of Disney songs. Then there were the pop-jazz-soul recordings of Wes Montgomery, Ramsey Lewis, Jimmy Smith and a host of others bringing contemporary pop sounds to Jazz. One could even argue that Coltrane’s recordings of “My Favourite Things” from The Sound Of Music and “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang had an eye toward record sales outside of jazz’s normal record-buying public.
It’s a period often derided by critics and musicians alike but, the fact remains, it kept musicians in work and, more importantly, honoured the tradition of Jazz artists taking popular themes and reworking them; a tradition that went back to the 1920’s.
Enter pianist Joe Webb, a young virtuoso who’s playing has been causing proverbial jaws to drop for a while now either through his work with the Kansas Smitty’s ensemble or his own Webb City, a trio that honours such greats as Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson and Nat ‘King’ Cole.
Summer Chill, his new project, is an unapologetic nod back to those 60’s pop-jazz days and, as he states, is presented as a “soundtrack to a 1960’s pool party”. The group consists of Webb himself on piano and organ alongside guitarist Alex Haines, bassist Will Sach, drummer Jas Kayser, percussionist João Caetano and saxophonist Fraser Smith.
The sextet play with a joyful abandon that one wishes there was more of in the jazz of today. The music is fun, uplifting and flawlessly played harking back to the days when jazz was played for dancers; purely for entertainment.
A Bourbon Street-inspired “You Are My Sunshine”, for example, would make Dr. John very happy. The funk-latin interpretation of “Comin’ Home Baby” presented here doesn’t miss the famous Mel Tormé vocal; the same goes for Georgie Fame’s “Yeah Yeah”. The conga-driven swing on Basie’s “Corner Pocket” reminds one of those great club recordings from the Village Vanguard or Blue Note with only the clinking of glasses and gentle murmur missing to make the scene complete. The Clovers R&B classic “One Mint Julep” has the band sounding as though they’re on the film set of Our Man Flint with Fraser Smith channeling Plas Johnson beautifully.
Joe Zawinul’s “Money In The Pocket”, written whilst a member of Cannonball Adderley’s quintet, sticks fairly faithfully to its original Boogaloo concept; Haines and Caetano, in the spotlight, taking extended solos.
The albums closing track “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, first heard in the Elvis Presley movie Blue Hawaii, gets the gospel treatment here with Joe Webb duetting with himself on piano and Hammond organ; a tranquil way to end after the previous nine rollicking tunes.
Summer Chill definitely has its place on today’s jazz scene. Times reviewer Clive Davis said nearly ten years ago, when reviewing New Orleans vocalist Lillian Boutté at Ronnie Scott’s, that her style of entertainment was out of fashion but musicians would do well to listen and learn. He went on to say that, if jazz was to hold on to its audience, “abstruse chords” wouldn’t be enough!
Joe Webb and Summer Chill will be launching their new album at the 100 Club in London on 1 August. Put on a loud shirt and some flares and get yourselves down there!
Summer Chill is released on 24 June
LINKS: 100 Club bookings