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Phil Freeman on Doug Webb “Swing Shift”…

Also in 2009, on April 24 to be precise, saxophonist Doug Webb went into Entourage Studios in North Hollywood, California with bassist Stanley Clarke (yes, that one) and drummer Gerry Gibbs. Three different pianists—Joe BaggMahesh Balasooriya and Larry Goldings—stopped by for a few hours each. The trio and its guest pianists recorded nearly 40 songs that day, many of them standards but others written by Webb or Clarke. Eight were released on 2009′s Midnight, eight more on 2010′s Renovations, and six more (one of them the 22-minute “Patagonia Suite”) on Swing Shift, the fiercest and most free of the series to date.

Webb may not be particularly famous, but his saxophone sound is one of the most widely heard on Earth: you see, he’s the “voice” ofLisa Simpson on The Simpsons. All those little solos in the opening credits? Webb. (I’ve thought for years that someone should string all of those together into one long piece—call it the “Lisa Simpson Concerto for Saxophone” or something similar. Now that I know who played them all, the idea seems even more appealing.) The first two volumes in this apparently ongoing series were much more romantic and relaxed than this one; they featured renditions of dusty relics like “Fly Me to the Moon,” “You Go to My Head,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “Satin Doll,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” and the like, all swinging with great power and grace but little fervor. Indeed, at their mellowest moments, these albums would fit comfortably alongside the work of Charlie Haden’s Quartet West. But Swing Shift is a very different animal. It’s got the shortest track of the trilogy, “Rizone,” a 2:40 sax-and-drums workout somewhere between John Coltrane‘s “Countdown” from Giant Steps and Charles Gayle‘s Touchin’ On Trane, but it’s also got the longest by far, the aforementioned “Patagonia Suite,” on which Webb starts out playing soprano, but after giving Clarke and Gibbs a moment or two to express themselves, the latter man heading into almost William Parker-ish string-yanking territory, returns on tenor with some fierce, even discordant blowing that would make even David S. Ware lift his head and take notice. This is no mere post-bop collection of standards; Swing Shift proves that Webb and his bandmates can speak any dialect of the family of languages known collectively as jazz, and do so with fluency and undiminished expressive power. Highly recommended to those who want to witness real adventure, paired with undeniable swing.