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Crotchet Crotchet

Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra
Jam Band

Theme [3:53]
Jam Blues [11:34]
Body and Soul [5:47]
The Chase [6:42]
Medium Blues [7:20]
Fast Blues [6:38]

Jiving the Blues
Airmail Special [5:07]
Vibe Boogie [7:07]
Jiving the Blues [6:21]
Drums Feature [2:41]
Medium Blues [8:36]
How High the Moon [4:10]
Vibe Boogie / Flying Home [7:41]




Lionel Hampton (vibes, leader)
Nat Adderley, Wallace Davenport, Julius Brooks, Ed Mullens (trumpets), Harold Roberts, Al Hayes, George Cooper (trombones), Jay Dennis, Robert Plater (alto sax), Elwyn Frasier, Jay Peters (tenor sax), Joe Evans (baritone sax), Dwight Mitchell (piano), William Mackel (guitar), Peter Badie (bass), Wilford Edelton (drums)
Recorded 27th December 1954, Industriehalle, Graz, Austria.

Though issued separately, I have reviewed these two CDs together, since they effectively preserve the first and second halves of the same concert.

Lionel Hampton first led a big band after leaving Benny Goodman in 1940. In its many versions Hampton’s big band was, at different times, host to some top-class jazz soloists, such as Wes Montgomery, Arnett Cobb, Johnny Griffin, Dexter Gordon and Illinois Jacquet. The 1953 band was particularly outstanding in this regard, since its personnel included Art Farmer and Clifford Brown amongst the trumpets, Jimmy Cleveland on trombone, Gigi Gryce on alto sax and George Wallington on piano. It has to be said that in terms of solo talent the band which toured Europe in 1954, and which can be heard live in concert on these two CDs, was very much the inferior of its predecessor. The CD documentation makes no attempt to identify the soloists; I assume that the featured trumpeter is Nat Adderley and that Jay Dennis and Jay Peters are the foregrounded sax players (neither of whom offers much that is very individual). All have their moments, though the context doesn’t allow for playing of any great subtlety from any of them. But, in compensation, Hampton himself is in excellent form, as he so often was in the 1950s. Still, he doesn’t take quite as much as solo space as one might have hoped.

The repertoire is fairly basic – plenty of up-tempo crowd pleasers, plenty of loosely jammed blues, some sentimental ballads. The first CD contains three tracks labelled (after the event presumably) ‘Jam Blues’, ‘Medium Blues’ and ‘Fast Blues’. On the first there’s a fluent solo by Hampton, incisively percussive as ever and infectiously enthusiastic – things become rather dull and predictable when others take over as soloists, though Jay Peters’ contribution starts out well and there is some effective orchestral riffing behind him, leading into a wild climax. On ‘Medium Blues’ Billy Mackel’s guitar opens things up with an attractive loping solo, before the baritone sax of Joe Evans (a little-known name) takes a solo of which much is unfortunately lost in the poor recording balance; Adderley contributes a short, witty, bright-toned solo and one of the trombonists (Harold Roberts?) plays trenchantly. Highlights of ‘Fast Blues’ include some more competent solo work from Mackel, a forceful contribution on trombone and some passionate playing from Peters. On Jiving the Blues, the title track has brief but telling contributions from Hampton, including one particularly hard-driving chorus, and a second ‘Medium Blues’ finds Hampton in very good form, the master communicator very much taking both band and audience along with him; Adderley plays an extended solo which nicely mixes long and short phrases, before some high note squeals, growls and sustained notes which win him a big audience reaction.

Some familiar tunes receive the familiar Hampton treatment. ‘How High the Moon’ is a Hampton showcase, full of easy, good-natured swing, building up an irresistible momentum. ‘Vibe Boogie’ opens with an interesting, quirky solo introduction, before Hampton launches into a compelling extended improvisation full of echoic and imitative effects, rhythmic asymmetries and sudden melodic runs. This performance is a joy, the outstanding number on this pair of CDs. The closing performance of ‘Flying Home’ isn’t, perhaps, one of the very best amongst Hampton’s many recordings of the number, but he is always worth hearing on this, one of the best known of his own compositions, even if the tenor work of Jay Peters is mostly rather banal.

Elsewhere, the brass are impressive on ‘Airmail Special’, though the dedication to sheer speed soon robs the performance of much in the way of imagination. Adderley is allowed more scope on ‘The Chase’, though a promising solo once again becomes rather self-indulgent.

Overall, a little too much desire to please the crowd limits the range of effect and approach on these two CDs. Hampton completists will certainly want them, less specialised listeners and collectors will probably find most to enjoy on Jiving the Blues, where there is more Hampton to be heard, not least the performance of ‘Vibe Boogie’. Hampton is one of those jazz musicians who almost always leaves the listener in a happier state of mind. Though some way short of being essential Hampton, this pair of CDs makes for generally happy listening.

Glyn Pursglove


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