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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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JOHNNY HODGES

The Jeep is Jumpin’

Living Era CD AJS 2021

 

 

 


CD1

1. Squatty Roo
2. Passion Flower
3. Things Ain't What They Used To Be (Time's A-Wastin')
4. Goin' Out the Back Way
5. You're Driving Me Crazy
6. Who Struck John?
7. Violet Blue
8. A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing (Passion)
9. Frisky
10. Lotus Blossom
11. Time On My Hands
12. Wishing and Waiting
13. Rendez-vous at the Hot Club (Bean Bag Boogie)
14. Sweet Lorraine
15. You Blew Out The Flame in my Heart (Rabbit's Blues)
16. Something To Pat Your Foot To
17. My Reward
18. Good Queen Bess
19. Jeep's Blues
20. The Jeep is Jumpin'
21. Solitude
22. Castle Rock
23. Sophisticated Lady
24. Globetrotter
25. A Gentle Breeze
CD2

1. A Pound of Blues
2. Wham
3. Who's Excited?
4. Day Dream
5. Standing Room Only
6. Tenderly
7. Tea For Two
8. I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good
9. Hodge Podge
10. Through for the Night
11. Come Sunday
12. The Sheik of Araby
13. In a Mellotone
14. I Let a Song Go out of My Heart
15. Don't Get Around Much Anymore (Never No Lament)
16. On The Sunny Side of the Street
17. Sweet as Bear Meat
18. Warm Valley
19. All Of Me
20. Mood Indigo
21. Perdido
Johnny Hodges – Alto sax, soprano sax,
with his Orchestra, Trio, and All Stars

When I saw the Duke Ellington Orchestra playing in London many years ago, the saxophone section was a dream team, including Paul Gonsalves, Russell Procope and Harry Carney. But one figure in the middle of the section caught one’s attention: a short, unsmiling man who looked as if he didn’t want to be there at all. Yet when he played a solo, the most heavenly music emerged from his alto sax. It was Johnny Hodges - a member of the Ellington ensemble for nearly 40 years and one of its brightest stars. Like many Ellington alumni, Hodges recorded a lot of small-group sessions, often using other members of Duke’s orchestra. Although theoretically these sessions were led by Hodges, he played many tunes written by Ellington, Billy Strayhorn or other Ducal associates, as well as plenty of original compositions of his own.

Hodges was born in 1907 and this double CD celebrates his centenary with a selection of tracks recorded between 1941 and 1955. It’s a generous collection, containing 46 mono recordings comprising 154 minutes of splendid jazz. This makes it good value at mid-price, although it partly overlaps with a fuller four-CD collection of recordings from 1937 to 1952 issued in 2003 by Proper Records (with the same title) and containing 94 tracks for the cost of one full-price CD. Either collection would provide a useful introduction to Hodges’ small-group work.

The album opens brilliantly – with Squatty Roo, a catchy up-tempo tune driven along by Jimmy Blanton’s sturdy bass and featuring the first of many fine solos from Johnny Hodges. Passion Flower shows another side of Hodges, as his alto sounds deeply emotional and sad in this Billy Strayhorn composition. Hodges could make the alto sax swoop and soar with glissandi that glided smoothly upwards and added to his ability to communicate feeling. The pianist on the first four tracks is Duke Ellington himself, although he only takes a solo on Goin’ Out the Back Way – another track which owes a lot to the propulsion of the Jimmy Blanton double bass.

Hodges’ emotional power is again evident on You’re Driving Me Crazy, taken at a considerably slower tempo than usual and backed only by the piano and bass of Jimmy Jones and Billy Taylor. Billy Strayhorn is the pianist on the next five tracks, three of which are Strayhorn compositions. All three allow Hodges to rhapsodise romantically, with A Flower is a Lovesome Thing outstanding for its beautiful melody. Frisky is a cheerful tune on which Johnny sounds as if he’s playing the soprano sax – at least, his phrasing is reminiscent of Sidney Bechet, one of his great influences.

Tracks 11 to 14 on the first CD were recorded in 1950 by Charles Delaunay when the Ellington band was in Paris, with Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet contrasting nicely with the Hodges alto. The remaining tracks on this CD were recorded in New York in 1951 by the band which Hodges formed when he left the Ellington orchestra. They feature not only some more wondrous work by Johnny Hodges but also sterling contributions from Emmett Berry (a trumpeter with a natural spring in his step) and trombonist Lawrence Brown. Brown was a lovely player, producing an immediately recognisable tone which was mellow without ever being bland.

The second CD consists entirely of recordings by Johnny’s own small group, which stayed together until 1955. The personnels vary but the strongest contributors include Lawrence Brown, Emmett Berry and several tenorists, including Ben Webster, Al Sears and even John Coltrane (although this latter is only heard in Sweet as Bear Meat). Ben Webster is a particular asset. He perks up Hodge Podge with a honking eight-bar solo and floats easily through In a Mellotone. Webster had already established his credentials with Ellington on such classic tunes as Cottontail but the recordings here mark his transition into the more breathy style which was his hallmark later on. However, the main spotlight is still on Johnny Hodges, whose playing sounds effortless but is actually the result of years of dedication. Like Lawrence Brown and several other long-serving members of the Ellington band, Hodges tends to get overlooked because he played in one ensemble for so long, but he truly was a peerless musician.


Tony Augarde


 



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