Harold Ashby: Stampash
Harold Ashby (tenor sax)
Just for You (Mapleshade MS 06232)
Composed by Harold Ashby.
Recorded: Upper Marlboro, MD, December 29-30, 1998
Rating: 92/100 (learn more)
Some have mistakenly thought of Harold Ashby as a poor man's Ben Webster, but discerning listeners could hear clear differences on both ballads and up-tempo tunes. When Ashby left the Chicago blues scene in 1957 for New York, it was Webster who introduced him to Mercer Ellington, and from 1968 until shortly after Duke Ellington's death in 1974, Ashby – after previously substituting when needed – served as a regular member of Duke's orchestra, with notable features on the "Chinoiserie" section of The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse and "Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta" from New Orleans Suite. Said Duke, in his autobiography Music is My Mistress: "Ash started out trying to play like Ben Webster, whom we all loved, but by this time he had allowed a lot of his own self to break through, to join with Ben's style, and to mature into an indescribably prime product of soul-saturated solo popping de luxe!"
Post-Ellington, Ashby led some memorably swinging recording sessions, including Just for You. Ashby's original "Stampash" is that CD's most heated track, a "stomp" by 'Ash' that never lets up. Hicks's inviting calypso-accented intro precedes Ashby's delivery of the dancing, staccato theme, which in its final few notes seems to acknowledge the calypso song "Matilda." Ashby's solo brings to mind not Webster, but Paul Gonsalves, whom Ashby sat next to in the Ellington sax section. Ashby's at-times-serpentine phrasing, his bent notes, an occasional wailing edge to his tone, and upper-register slurs all recall Gonsalves to some extent. However, Ashby adds his own distinctive growls, rasps, honks and pops to make sure everyone knows who's in charge. The subsequent lively and lucid solos by Hicks, Betts, and Cobb maintain the high level of musicianship set by Ashby.
Reviewer: Scott Albin