by Ian Mann
June 30, 2022
Webb’s love and knowledge of his source material shines through and the playing is exceptional throughout, particularly from the leader.
(Ubuntu Music – UBU0115)
Joe Webb – piano, Hammond organ, Alex Haines – guitar, Will Sach – double bass, Joao Caetano – percussion, Jas Keyser – drums
with guests Fraser Smith – saxophone, Kitty Liv Durham – auxiliary percussion
The Welsh born pianist and organist Joe Webb studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) before moving to London in 2013 and establishing himself as a major talent on that city’s jazz scene.
Equally skilled on piano and organ Webb is a versatile musician whose playing has been heard in a variety of jazz contexts. He leads a trio featuring bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Shane Forbes, a unit that performs as an entity but which also serves as a ‘rhythm section for hire’, backing other instrumentalists and vocalists. As a trio the group has released two EPs of original material, “Daydreamer” and “For Everything Else”, both on the Ubuntu label. Farmer and Forbes are, of course, well known as members of the band Empirical.
Webb also leads the trio Webb City, a group with a different instrumental configuration that specialises in earlier jazz styles and particularly the music of pianist Art Tatum. A recent performance by Webb City, featuring guitarist Dave Archer and bassist Will Sach, at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny can be found here;
Webb has also performed with Kansas Smitty’s House Band, Fraser & The Alibis, Old Hat Jazz Band, guitarist Rob Luft, vocalist Ella Hohnen-Ford, drummer Sam Jesson and clarinettist Adrian Cox.
He met guitarist Alex Haines when they toured together with vocalist Hailey Tuck. Meanwhile the Kansas Smitty’s connection introduced him to Kayser and Caetano, with whom he performed as part of a series of livestreams on KSTV. Haines, Kayser, Caetano and Webb City bassist Will Sach form the core quintet on “Summer Chill” with Fraser Smith and Kitty Liv Durham guesting on the track “One Mint Julep”.
Webb says of the new album;
“Even though it was difficult to write music during the last two years I felt it was important to document this period in some way, especially with the musicians I had spent the most time with. The idea of the project was to create a soundtrack to a pool party in the 1960s. I spent some time watching films during the recent lockdowns which were inspired by this era.”
With the exception of a couple of Webb originals most of the tracks are covers of originals associated with Webb’s chosen era and include songs variously associated with Elvis Presley, LaVern Baker, Georgie Fame, Mel Torme, Erroll Garner, Freddie Greene, Cannonball Adderley and The Clovers.
Jazz pianist Erroll Garner is a particularly important source of inspiration for Webb who describes Garner’s playing as “pure sunshine”. Webb’s own tune “Errolesque”, composed on the night before the recording session, pays suitable homage.
The album commences with Webb’s version of “Tweedle Dee”, an r’n’b novelty song written by Winfred Scott that was a hit for LaVern Baker & The Gliders way back in 1954. It was later performed by Elvis Presley. This new instrumental arrangement adds a heavier funk style groove, powered by Sach’s bass, and an additional Latin flavouring, courtesy of Caetano’s percussion. Webb’s piano takes the lead, with Haines’ guitar taking over towards the close. A lively, attention grabbing opener.
And is it just me or did I spot allusions to Leiber & Stoller’s “Ruby Baby” (famously revived by Donald Fagen) in there too?
Caetano’s percussion brings an even stronger Latin element to an arrangement of the song “Comin’ Home Baby”, once a hit for vocalist Mel Torme. Lazy latin-funk grooves provide the backdrop for Webb’s exuberant piano soloing and Haines’ blues tinged guitar explorations.
Webb gives that old favourite “You Are My Sunshine” a New Orleans flavouring, with Sach’s bass lines even replicating the chug of a sousaphone or tuba. Sach also acts as a soloist, alongside the leader on piano. As I’ve remarked before, for one so young Webb has an amazingly thorough knowledge of vintage jazz styles and material. On the evidence of this Crescent City inspired performance one is tempted to rename him ‘Professor Webb’.
Webb switches to Hammond organ for a romp through the old Georgie Fame hit “Yea Yea”. Fame’s singing isn’t missed as Webb summons evocative gospel inspired sounds from the organ and Haines’ provides authentically bluesy guitar, both surfing a sturdy rhythmic backbeat. This is a highly energetic performance that carries the listener along its wake. One can’t help getting caught up in the enthusiasm of it all.
Things take a more obvious jazz turn with an arrangement of the Joe Zawinul composition “Money In The Pocket”, a tune written for alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. Written in a jazz boogaloo style the Webb group give it a lively interpretation with guitarist Haines, drummer Kayser and percussionist Caetano all featuring strongly. The performance includes an extended drum and percussion episode.
“Catalan Jumper” is the first of two Webb originals. The composer describes his piece as being; “Loosely based on Marc Ribot’s ‘Aqui Como Alla’. I got hooked listening to it because you can almost imagine being in a big convertible driving along the Hollywood Boulevard on a balmy summer evening”.
Caetano helps to provide an authentically Cuban sounding backdrop for Webb’s pianistic excursions, while Haines steps into the Ribot role on guitar.
“Errolesque” immediately follows, a suitably joyous, sunshine filled tribute to the genius of Errol Garner with Webb in terrific form at the piano and with percussionist Caetano also making a distinctive contribution.
Perhaps the most obviously ‘jazz’ item on the whole album is a rendition of Count Basie’s “Corner Pocket”, essentially a piano trio performance featuring Sach’s walking bass lines, Keyser’s crisp, swinging drumming and the leader’s own vivacious piano soloing.
Webb moves back to the Hammond for an arrangement of “One Mint Julep”, a 1952 hit for vocal group The Clovers and later for Ray Charles. On this version Webb’s surging Hammond combines with Fraser Smith’s earthy tenor sax to create a sound reminiscent of the various organ led combos that appeared regularly on the Blue Note record label in the 1950s and 60s. Webb and Smith exchange solos and phrases, while guest percussionist Durham adds an element of Latin exotica to the downhome r’n’b funkiness and soulfulness.
The album concludes with an arrangement of “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”, a song indelibly associated with Elvis Presley. This surprisingly poignant and thoughtful gospel inspired arrangement finds Webb doubling on piano and Hammond and rounding off this largely high energy ‘pool party’ album on a suitably chilled out note.
The critical reaction to “Summer Chill” has been overwhelmingly favourable and the album’s self acknowledged ‘lightweight’ status seems to have done it no harm at all. The concept may be ‘slight’, but Webb’s love and knowledge of his source material shines through and the playing is exceptional throughout, particularly from the leader. It also serves as a reminder of the time when jazz was still an important component in the popular music of the day.
“Summer Chill” seems to have been adopted as a band name and one can imagine Webb and his quintet delighting jazz audiences up and down the country with performances of this material. I can imagine it going down particularly well in Abergavenny, where he has already established something of a following.
In the meantime London audiences can check out Joe Webb and “Summer Chill” on Monday August 1st at the official album launch at the famous 100 Club on Oxford Street.
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