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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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JOHNNY HODGES

Four Classic Albums

Avid AMSC 999

 

 


CD1
1. Castle Rock
2. The Jeep is Jumping
3. A Gentle Breeze
4. Globe Trotter
5. Jeep’s Blues
6. A Pound of Blues
7. You Blew Out the Flame in my Heart
8. Something to Pat Your Foot To
9. Blue Fantasia
10. My Reward
11. Sideways
12. Wham
13. The Jeep is Jumping (Alternate Take)
14. In a Mellow Tone
15. I Let a Song Go out of my Heart
16. Don’t Get Around Much Any More
17. Come Sunday
18. I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good
19. Sophisticated Lady
20. Day Dream
21. Solitude
22. Good Queen Bess
23. Perdido

CD2
1. Mood Indigo
2. Squatty Roo
3. Rose Room
4. Blues for Basie
5. For This Is My Night to Love
6. This Love of Mine
Ballad Medley:
      7. Whispering
      8. Tenderly
      9. Don’t Take Your Love from Me
      10. But Not for Me
      11. Prelude to a Kiss
      12. Polka Dots and Moonbeams
      13. Passion Flower
14. Scufflin’
15. Honey Bunny
16. Passion
17. Pretty Little Girl
18. No Use Kicking

Collective personnel
Johnny Hodges - Alto sax
Lawrence Brown - Trombone
Emmett Berry, Nelson Williams, Harold "Shorty" Baker, Clark Terry - Trumpet
Al Sears, Flip Phillips, Ben Webster, Rudy Williams, Arthur Clarke - Tenor sax
Jimmy Hamilton - Tenor sax, clarinet
Harry Carney -Baritone sax
Leroy Lovett - Piano, celeste
Billy Strayhorn, Ted Brannon - Piano
Lloyd Trotman, Al McKibbon, Red Callender, Barney Richmond, John Williams, Jimmy Woode - Bass
Sonny Greer, Joe Marshall, J. C. Heard, Al Walker, Osie Johnson, Louie Bellson - Drums

 

In 1951, Johnny Hodges left Duke Ellington's orchestra, with which he had been performing since 1928. He returned to Duke's band in 1955 but, in the interim, he led various small-group sessions, which are well represented here on this double CD which contains four original LPs.

The first album that Hodges recorded after leaving Duke was Castle Rock, which comprises the first dozen tracks, with an alternate take of The Jeep is Jumping. Two of the musicians who left Ellington at the same time as Hodges are on this album: trombonist Lawrence Brown and drummer Sonny Greer. In fact Brown is on all the recordings collected here, which shows how much Johnny Hodges must have valued him. He was a good choice, as Lawrence could play with swing as well as lyricism, and his tone was not only distinctive but beautiful.

This whole album reminds me of the sessions which Vic Dickenson led in the early 1950s and which helped to establish the genre of "mainstream". Al Sears wrote the title track - Castle Rock - and it became very popular, even being recorded by Frank Sinatra. It's a bouncy jump tune, with some fierce tenor sax from Sears. Another soloist of note is trumpeter Emmett Berry, who shines in Globe Trotter. Johnny Hodges takes the limelight in one of his trademark pieces - The Jeep is Jumping - and, indeed, his playing really jumps. The more rhapsodic side of Hodges is well illustrated on such ballads as A Gentle Breeze and Blue Fantasia. You Blew Out the Flame in my Heart is a marvellously catchy tune, entitled The Rabbit's Jump when it first appeared on a small-group recording in 1939.

All but one of the remaining tracks on the first CD come from the LP In a Mellow Tone, which was also released as Memories of Duke Ellington. As with the other LPs, the repertoire contains a large number of pieces from the Duke Ellington repertoire - as do the personnels. Ben Webster is present instead of Al Sears on tracks 14 to 17, and his warm, buzzy tenor-sax tone is one of the album's many attractions. But it is Hodges whose radiant alto takes the palm in Come Sunday. And his soaring glissandi are miraculous in I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good (although the original sleeve-writer credits the soaring sax to tenorist Flip Phillips!).

The second CD comprises the 1955 LPs Perdido and Creamy, although the title-track of the former is tacked onto the end of the first CD. Again, there are goodly chunks of Ellingtonia. With their eloquent solos, Johnny Hodges and Lawrence Brown even give new life to Mood Indigo.

The LP Creamy opened with an idea popularised by Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic: a ballad medley, which gives seven members of the octet a chance to show their paces on slow tunes. Harry Carney does the difficult job of tackling Whispering on his deep-down but rather quavery baritone sax; Clark Terry is more successful with Tenderly; Jimmy Hamilton's clarinet is touching in Don't Take Your Love from Me; Lawrence Brown exemplifies why he is one of my favourite trombonists in But Not for Me; and Billy Strayhorn joins each number together with subtle piano transitions, as well as performing Prelude to a Kiss in colla voce style. Jimmy Woode plays Polka Dots and Moonbeams on the double bass, and the whole medley culminates in a gloriously subdued Passion Flower from Johnny Hodges.

Things hot up considerably for Scufflin', thrust along by Sonny Greer's drums. Honey Bunny is one of those splendid ensemble pieces that these groups did so well, with the Hodges alto leading the way. Passion is the tune better known as A Flower is a Lovesome Thing - more gleaming saxophone from Hodges. Pretty Girl is another tune we know better by another title - Star-Crossed Lovers from the Ducal suite Such Sweet Thunder. The set ends with the Hodges original No Use Kicking, which strolls along nicely.

These reissued albums may consist largely of familiar tunes but they are refreshed by interestingly arranged passages for the ensembles (for instance, in Blues for Basie), as well as by many superb solos.

In the personnel listing above, I started by trying to list exactly who played on which track but the layout of these inner sleeves is enough to give anybody a headache. This is one area where Avid may be economising too much, and it is virtually the only irritant about these well-remastered Avid reissues, which are otherwise eminently buyable.

Now I hope that Avid will reissue Johnny Hodges' collaborations with organist Wild Bill Davis - another source of memorable recordings.

Tony Augarde



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