REVIEWS for SWING SHIFT
L.A. Jazz Scene - February 2012, Issue No. 293
An essential part of jazz fandom is participating in the endless debate about the pros and cons of recordings versus live performances. Despite the obstacles in the pursuit of the holy grail of recorded perfection, such as budget limitations, artistic differences between producers and performers, and the stifling effect of herding musicians into separate cubicles, records give us the opportunity to savor the essence of a performance; after repeated listening, we often make these sounds a part of ourselves. While live shows are frequently subject to encumbrances like noisy patrons and claustrophobic seating arrangements, who among us would forsake the memories of great gigs, the bragging rights that come with catching musicians on a fire-breathing night, or the chance to be a part of the excitement by applauding or offering spontaneous verbal support?
Saxophonist Doug Webb's Swing Shift is a studio session that sounds and feels like a late night club set. Though some of the six-track, 55-minute record bears a resemblance to John Coltrane's early 1960s quartet and includes well trodden material by Mal Waldron, Frank Foster and Rodgers and Hart, there's nothing safe, referential or predictable about it. These recognizable points of reference are a framework for a profoundly present-centered music that-like the greatest live performances-possesses the power to wash away the dust of daily existence.
At the record's core is a rhythmic thrust that is at once nimble, bold and almost unremittingly aggressive. Bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Gerry Gibbs are one of the fiercest and most focused bass and drums teams in recent memory. They generate their own brand of conventional swing, and manufacture a steely momentum outside the confines of a traditional, steady pulse. There's something primal and dead certain about Clarke's lines, whether he's walking or finding other, more skeletal ways to mark time and outline harmony. The brisk, irregular chatter of Gibbs' snare, as well as frequent bass drum and tom-tom punctuation, offers another layer of rhythmic stimulation that manages to stay on point.
During "Soul Eyes," the disc's opening track, it's impossible to tell who's responsible for the music's steadily rising temperature-Clarke and Gibbs, in cahoots with pianist Larry Goldings, or the leader's muscular, cogent tenor solo. Throughout the permutations of the 22-minute "Patagonia Suite," Clarke and Gibbs (along with pianist Mahesh Balasooriya) aggressively maneuver amidst Webb's tenor and soprano, going inside and outside as the suite evolves. When Webb and Gibbs square off on the all-too-brief "Rizone," they fashion a claustrophobic zone somewhere between ludicrously fast straight-ahead time and free form; the cumulative effect sounds like they're slapping each other silly.
Webb is a smart, effusive and resourceful soloist who finds his own ways of dealing with the melodies and changes of familiar tunes, like "Soul Eyes," "Simone" and "Where Or When." His improvisations exhibit the gritty, uninhibited feel of a jazzman playing for the sake of the music alone, with no other agenda in mind. Webb juggles a variety of phrases of varying lengths, makes brief, interesting digressions, takes into account whatever Clarke and Gibbs throw at him, and never ties things together too neatly. The mastery that comes with ardently playing the horn for decades and taking the standard repertoire seriously runs through these tracks and results in music that is deep, challenging and emotionally satisfying.
As Webb and his bandmates throw their whole selves into every note, playing like there's no tomorrow and caring not one whit about the consequences, you might almost hear an audience's applause and shouts of delight. Swing Shift is a terrific record.
—David A. Orthmann, all about jazz
Doug Webb is one of those hard charging post bop tenor players that allows me to accept the fact the best place for my tenor may well be hanging on the wall of the local TGI Fridays. Moving seamlessly from alto to tenor, Webb is a master technician with artistic chops galore but Swing Shift is a tad different. Doug Webb's Swing Shift is not the traditional blowing session but instead a more lyrical vibe of some of the classic Blue Note large ensembles back when men were men and Blue Note still understood what swing was. The cool bit of back story here is that for the uninitiated, Doug Webb also happens to be the lyrical voice of Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons.
Webb went old school on us back in 2009 by sequestering himself in a Los Angeles studio for a marathon session with a revolving set of pianists with the results successful enough for Swing Shift to be the third volume of work to be released from this session. Swing Shift is passion personified with an all star cast showcasing their unique ability to shift dynamics on the fly, work without a harmonic net and simply blow the roof off the post bop studio they took refuge in.
Opening with "Soul Eyes" a breezy soulful tune from Mal Waldron there is an almost classic Rudy Van Gelder sound to this recording as a effervescent swing takes hold and an organic pulse has Webb push the tempo without over pushing the swing. The incomparable Larry Goldings plays with finesse and precision with drummer Gerry Gibbs subtle percussive nuances and bassist Stanley Clarke anchor a rock star rhythm section. The epicenter of Swing Shift would be the close to 23-minute long "Panagonia Suite" which is a jaw dropping showcase for both Webb and Clarke. Webb destroys the alto part with an avant gard approach that simply sets the table for Mahesh Balasooriya on piano and Clarke on bass to follow the lyrical road less traveled in the same vein as Webb. The Rodgers and Hart classic "Where or When" is pulled off as a trio with Joe Bagg playing piano and Clarke on bass. Webb continues his foray into the minor harmonics breathing new life into a somewhat tired classic. While there is more than ample sonic firepower displayed throughout this remarkable release, accessibility is never lost.
Swing Shift is hard post bop jazz at an incredibly high level. The day long session included recording nearly 40 songs with three different piano players dropping by throughout the day to work with Webb and his trio. The sound is every bit as notable as the music with most recordings done on one take and there were no overdubs, edits or fade outs. A warm virtually live in the studio ambiance permeates Swing Shift. Consider this a semi-autobiographical look at a musician born to play. Consider this swing on steroids.
The most important things about any group that has been/recorded together for long period of time is consistency and chemistry. In the case of Doug Webb, this consistency and chemistry came of the course of one long day which has given birth to three recordings including his latest, Swing Shift. These recordings represent a number of snapshots over those hours with various piano players. But the one constant is Webb's amazing direction and the groups ability to hold strong and sound blisteringly beauty on every piece.
Opening this set with brilliance, Webb features Larry Goldings on piano performing on the Mal Waldron classic, "Soul Eyes." It's a nice and uptempo version with a lot of a muscle and vitality. Webb's sound is bold and jumps out and takes hold. The connection the trio of Gibbs, Webb and Clarke have with each pianist throughout these sessions is amazing. Goldings playing, particularly towards the middle of the piece is like an elegant tap dancer.
While the opening minutes of the 22 minute epic, "Patagonia Suite" (written by Webb and Clarke)can be compared to Coltrane as far as performance, the material expands from that theme to Webb's own vision very quickly. The opening movement flies at a frenzy. Batasooriya delivers a resounding performance as he challenges the trio and they respond with crisp versatility. The second movement sees each member moving through improvised solos with Gibbs expressing himself through crazy timing that makes the piece more adventurous than it already is.
Webb offers a sense of spirituality as the "Patagonia Suite" moves into its middle section, which does feel like late period Coltrane but its extremely effective. The interaction between Clarke and Webb is fantastic. This is probably the most exciting I've heard Clarke in years. "Patagonia Suite" later resettles into a kind of hard bop mode as it travels towards its conclusion; including quiet but rich solos from Clarke and Batasooriya.
"Apodemia," another piece written by Webb and Clarke is a bright conclusion to the session. Joe Bagg sits in on piano. The band plays off Webb's vibrant yet cool performance. This has a nice live feeling to it. I'm really impressed with Webb's performances and writing throughout Swing Shift. "Apodemia," while based in the hard bop mold has a solid sense of modernism delivered by the musicians. Clarke adds a little bit of the funky groove for which he is known. Webb allows the band to really stretch on this piece. It's a relaxed, diverse and romantic all at once.
Webb's wild all-day session from four years ago still bears some excitingly fresh fruit. Let's hope there's more in the vault to come. Doug Webb has produced a superb bit of work with Swing Shift. If you've never listened to him before, this is definitely a disc worth seeking out.
—Stephan Moore, JazzWrap | A Jazz Music Blog
Los Angeles-based saxophonist Doug Webb delivers a muscular set of high-end jam session jazz on Swing Shift, his third release of material taken from a marathon recording session in April, 2009. Along with bass legend Stanley Clarke and drummer Gerry Gibbs, Webb invites a trio of guest pianists to augment the disc's six tracks of original and familiar pieces.
The lengthy "Patagonia Suite" finds Webb and company in a Coltrane frame of mind, with extended modal workouts and free-form excursions. The unrelenting and highly responsive rhythm section of Clarke and Gibbs, on full display here, propels Webb's command of both soprano and tenor. The veteran woodwind man of countless studio sessions displays acute knowledge of the jazz saxophone lineage. "Patagonia Suite" and Frank Foster's "Simone" also feature jaw-dropping piano solos from Mahesh Balasooriya.
Larry Goldings takes over the piano chair for Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes," swinging hard and settling into a fiery up-tempo groove with Clarke, whose bass presence is characteristically larger-than-life throughout the recording. A soulful, straight-ahead reading of "Where or When" features the stripped-down duo of Webb and pianist Joe Bagg.
—The Jazz Word, thejazzword.blogspot.com
So pay attention, the sax man is backed up by Stanley Clarke and Gerry Gibbs and has Larry Goldings dropping by to tickle a few ivories. Interested? No seventh galaxy tours here, just hard hitting swing on originals and covers that add up to a killer listening date people who want it hear it done right will flock to. Tasty stuff that doesnít quit or wear out itís welcome, this is so lid contemporary jazz that is in the pocket throughout.
—Chris Spector, www.midwestrecord.com