Ashby appeared on the scene as if by magic when Jimmy Hamilton retired from the Ellington Orchestra in 1968 – he was in his 40s and had been around for years but much of his early discography was with rhythm-and-blues bands. He went on his own after Duke's death and made European tours with all-star packages. This was his first session as leader for a US-based label, and he takes good advantage of the opportunity.
Born in Kansas City and raised in Chicago, Ashby has a tone that owes a lot to Ben Webster, though so do most of the other tenorists. He picked a good group – Don Friedman, piano; George Mraz, bass; and Ronnie Bedford, drums. They were young and energetic, and provide excellent backing for Ashby. The session is a delightful mixture of standards and originals – Over the Rainbow features Ashby at his Websterish best, while he gives beautiful readings of There is No Greater Love and Days of Wine and Roses. Dainty is a very tasty fast riff blues, and gives everyone in the group a chance to solo – it's a very catchy song but I can't place where it's from. Pleading and Quickie are both short blues originals, while Cous Cous is yet another tune on the Rhythm changes, and the guys have a lot of fun with it. In addition to what was an LP on Progressive, there are five alternate takes – it's interesting to hear what might have been on the LP, and Ashby's group is good enough that every time they tackle a number there are more than minute variations.
Gus Statiras ran the Progressive label for many years – always looking for something no one else had done – here he gave Harold Ashby a solo outing which helped him develop enough of a reputation that he was able to work steadily for the rest of his life. Ashby shows that he shouldn't be relegated to footnote status – may have come to the big leagues late in life. If anything, this album shows he should have been there sooner, but he was laboring in Chicago when all the action was in New York.
Paige Van Vorst | Jazzbeat Newsletter Oct 2013