Joe Williams and Harry “Sweets” Edison ‘Complete Small Group Sessions’ 2CD (American Jazz Classics) 4/5

joe-williams-harry-sweets-edisonTo a younger audience Joe Williams will probably be best known for his work with the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Orchestra and a song that has become the opening theme tune to a BBC Radio 2 jazz programme on a Tuesday evening, ‘Get out of my life woman’. However, singer Joe Williams’ contribution goes way back in time arguably his strongest work dates from his tenure with the Count Basie band between 1954 and 1961. This excellent value for money 2 CD four original albums that were mainly recorded in the post-Basie era dating from 1961 and 1962 with Harry “Sweets” Edison sharing joint leader duties, although as a generous bonus a separate album from 1959 is included with a couple of further tracks from 1958. A major highlight is the complete version of ‘A swingin’ night at Birdland’ album that captures two different nights at the legendary New York club and one that Weather Report would pay rightful homage to over a decade later. While the rhythm section is totally different between the two June dates, tenorist Jimmy Forrest remains on both, with some of Williams’ most endearing interpretations being contained within. These include the swinging. ‘Well alright, okay, you win’, a punchy and utterly stunning take on ‘Have you met Miss Jones?’ whereas in a more reflective mood, there is a gorgeous reading of the ballad, ‘Falling in love with love’. Needless to say the Great American Songbook serves as Williams springboard while Joe engages in some superlative scatting on ‘Roll ’em Pete’ which is also a vehicle for Forest’s tenor soloing. The complete live sessions are worth the price admission alone. Of the studio recordings, the larger group ensemble line-up on ‘Joe Williams sings about you!’ impresses most and it easy to see why when one has on board Ben Webster on tenor saxophone, Freddie Green on guitar and Hank Jones on piano among a host of other greats. A relaxed affair with ‘The very thought of you’ and ‘I only have eyes for you’ stand out numbers. Joe Williams would go on to record with Cannonball Adderly and George Duke in the early-mid 1970s.

Tim Stenhouse