Blues blown in fine jazz swing style. Blues can be repetitious, but swing jazz blues improvisations elevate the format. Hodges & Webster are kings of this style, as heard on this recording.
While both had success as solo artists apart from the Duke Ellington famous orchestra, they often relied more upon standards & blues variations than upon memorable original melodies in their solo efforts, perhaps leading to modest record sales on many (certainly not all) releases. Hence the one-star deduction here; these guys shine even brighter on well-written standards with true melody, rather than theme riffs that serve as 'bookends' for strings of solos. And yet Hodges came up with many such riffs, as in the long blues in Norman Granz's first 'Jam Session' LP, with Charlie Parker & more all-stars, wherein Webster takes the last solo with his 'Count Basie-style' sparse-note phrasing, after several solos from others with fast runs of many notes, thus creating a marked dynamic contrast. The Jazz Cellar sessions follow that lead quite well.
Smart, harmonized, 'bop-pish' themes begin & end many of these tunes, but the bulk in the middle is simply laid-back jazz blues improv's. There are up-tempo tunes (belying the critics who deny that Webster can play up-tempo), slow tunes (where both horns are expressive of heart & soul), plus nods to Ellington, Strayhorn (the piano opener & closer on 'Dual Highway' comes from 'Take the A Train'), and Fletcher Henderson ('Big Smack,' as 'Smack' was Fletcher's nickname). 'Side Door,' is quite a showcase, as one reviewer mentioned, having shades of Parker & Gillespie, Henderson, even Duke's 'Cotton Tail,' since it runs with the often used 'I've Got Rhythm' chord sequence at up-tempo. I also favor the 'Bojangles' feeling of 'Ben's Web,' and the slow blues of 'Val's Lament,' 'I'd Be There,' and 'Dual Highway.'
This collaboration deserves attention; both saxophonists are at the top of their game, plus the accompaniment is exceptional: Herb Ellis' guitar on most tracks, the solid Lou Levy piano, excellent bass & drums, plus Jimmy Hamilton's arrangements (too bad he didn't play also!) on the bonus tracks (which include a couple of standards), adding Ellington-alumni Ray Nance (trumpet) & Lawrence Brown (trombone) and others. Definitely 2 sessions that cooked, but didn't sell at the time. Well worth a listen or two or three.