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Havin A Good Time by Joe Williams with Ben Webster

Recorded live in 1964 at a club in Providence, RI, Havin' A Good Time documents for the first time on disc the only known performance together by Joe Williams and Ben Webster. The original tape was part of the archive left by the singer Williams to Hamilton College in New York, and represents a real find. Most recordings of the "Great, Lost" variety disappoint on some level, but this one lives up to everything that could reasonably be expected of it. The recording is almost shockingly clean, and, if the performances on the set are something less than revelatory, they are nevertheless quite enjoyable, with the two stars and an illustrious supporting cast of Junior Mance, Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker all seemingly doing just as the title suggests.

The pairing of Williams and Webster is an apt and fortuitous one; both are among the most able interpreters of blues and ballads on their respective instruments. Williams displays his usual elegance and perfect diction, and his between-song patter shows his masterful touch with a crowd. Webster's tenor saxophone sounds a bit tentative as the set begins, unsurprising given the off-the-cuff nature of the performance; his big, warm and smoky tone, though, is a perfect counterpoint to Williams' bright baritone, and Webster gains strength as the set continues. His solo on "Alone Together" is a nice piece of musical economy, packing a strong emotional punch in a short spot. He gets a longer turn on "A Hundred Years From Today" and makes the most of that as well.

The backing musicians are equally deft. Mance demonstrates a mastery of blues piano on numbers like "Kansas City Blues" and "Ain't Misbehavin'," while bassist Cranshaw and drummer Roker swing with authority throughout. Not only that, on the hard-charging "By the River St. Marie" they do nothing less than rock.

I've come to be skeptical of recordings that are unearthed after five decades or what-have-you. Whatever their historical significance, and however good the players may be, such records tend not to be the kind of records you play over and over again. Havin' A Good Time, though, is an exception to that rule. Not only is the performance satisfying, the sound quality is as well. The instruments are well separated, and Williams' vocals are clear as a bell. This is a very enjoyable set of straightforward jazz standards by a casual group of masters.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joe Williams with Ben Webster
  • CD Title: Havin A Good Time
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Hyena Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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