If one is truly judged by the company they keep, then saxophonist Doug Webb is immediately well thought of, even before hearing his music. While Midnight marks his recorded debut as a leader, he’s performed and/or recorded with a long list of jazz greats, including Horace Silver, Freddie Hubbard and Billy Higgins, and appeared on over 150 jazz recordings. Though Webb isn’t a household name, millions of people have heard his solos on the soundtracks for Clint Eastwood-directed films like Mystic River(2003) and Gran Torino (2008).
He brings his vast experience and alluring saxophone sound to the fore on this program of standards, with some support from top-notch players like bassist Stanley Clarke and pianist Larry Goldings. While every performance is well-crafted, Webb really seems to work best in ballad settings. His relationship with the piano is key to the success of these mellow performances. Webb and Goldings seem to complete each other’s thoughts on “I’ll Be Around,” and the saxophonist is left alone to work things out without distraction with pianist Joe Bagg on “You Go To My Head.” “Crazy She Calls Me” is another relaxed performance, though Clarke’s solo adds some fireworks.
“Fly Me To The Moon” is given a gentle Brazilian treatment, with drummerGerry Gibbs locking in the groove and holding things together when the steady melodic flow of the song dissolves, putting Clarke in the spotlight for a bit. While Webb manages to insert a few lively performances into the mix, as on the album opener “Try A Little Tenderness” and the waltzing interpretation of “The Boy Next Door”—featuring a killer solo from Mahesh Balasooriya on his only album appearance—the saxophonist returns to ballad territory to end things with a beautiful take on Johnny Mandel’s “Emily.” Gibbs is as supportive as ever, with his brushes controlling the time, as Webb, Clarke and Goldings deliver some A+ solo work. While it’s tough to stand out with a standards-only record, Webb’s solid saxophone work and the presence of some of jazz’s best players help Midnight rise to the top.