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Various Artists: The Wax Label Sessions

Grizzled survivors of the 78-rpm era and the early days of LPs may remember the Wax label, but this music is likely to come as a surprise to most listeners. It was made in 1947, the year that bassist Al Hall ran the little company in New York and recruited some of the best mainstream players of the day to record for it. Ben Webster’s tenor saxophone is prominent in two quintets: his own and one led by Hall. The Hall session has Webster at his peak of gruff powerhouse swing on “Rose of the Rio Grande” and rhapsodic on a superb version of Benny Carter’s “Blues in My Heart.” The trumpeter in Hall’s band is Dick Vance, a nearly forgotten hero of the swing era.

In Webster’s quintet, Vance’s counterpart is Bill Coleman, another prominent soloist rarely mentioned today. He is delightful in solo, and in unison with Webster on the quasi-boppish line fashioned for an uptempo treatment of Irving Berlin’s “All Alone.” One of the many rewards of this collection is that on half the tracks the drummer is Denzil Best, one of the instrument’s greatest brush artists. Another highlight is that Jimmy Jones, a pianist of exquisite touch and harmonic sense, is featured extensively.

Ellingtonians abound, among them Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Lawrence Brown, Billy Strayhorn and Otto Hardwick. Hodges’ unusual slow treatment of “You’re Driving Me Crazy” and Brown’s sensuous reading of the melody of Carter’s “Key Largo” are highlights of this welcome CD.

Originally Published