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



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JOHNNY HODGES SEPTET
featuring BEN WEBSTER

Blues A-Plenty

American Jazz Classics 99058

 

 

1. I didn't know about you [3:32]
2. Cool your motor [3:37]
3. Gone with the wind [3:20]
4. Honey Hill [4:04]
5. Blues-a-plenty [3:24]
6. Don't take your love from me [3:43]
7. Saturday afternoon blues [6:01]
8. Satin doll [5:02]
9. Reelin' and rockin' [9:38]
10. Don't take your love from me (alternate take) [5:46]
11. Reelin' and rockin' (alternate take) [9:40]
12. Meet the frog [3:06]
13. Nite life [5:31]
14. My melancholy baby [2:58]
15. Untitled original [2:46]
16. Free for all [5:54].

Tracks 10 & 11 were from the same session as tracks 1-9 but were not included on the original LP. Tracks 12-16 are bonus tracks.

Personnel:
Tracks 1-11: Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Ben Webster (tenor sax), Roy Eldridge (trumpet), Vic Dickenson (trombone), Billy Strayhorn (piano), Jimmy Woode (bass), Sam Woodyard (drums). Note: Eldridge, Dickenson & Webster do not feature on tracks 1,3,6,8 & 10.
rec. New York, USA on April 5, 1958.
Bonus tracks 12-16:
Johhny Hodges (alto sax), Ben Webster (tenor sax), Shorty Baker (trumpet), Quentin Jackson , John Sanders (trombone), Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet), Jimmy Jones (piano), Les Spann (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), Joe Jones (drums).
rec. New York, USA on April 8, 1959.
Note: Track 15 has been always listed on discographies, and has been issued on a Mosaic set, as Billy Strayhorn's Lotus Blossom, but it clearly is not.

In these sophisticated times when we seem to be able to have everything we are particularly fortunate that record companies like American Jazz Classics recognise the importance of preserving gems of jazz like those on this disc, collect them together and remaster them so that the sound is so pristine they could easily have been recorded just yesterday. When you listen to this disc you have to keep reminding yourself that these were recorded over 50 years ago and that Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges first recorded together in Duke Ellington's orchestra in 1935! This is a fabulous disc that shows off the talents of both Johnny and Ben to perfection. Johnny Hodges had a beautifully silky smooth singing tone while Ben's tenor was gutsy and raunchy but nevertheless had its soft edge too at times. The record kicks off with a really lovely example of I didn't know about you with Johnny's magic alto exemplifying the phrase `laid back' and Billy Strayhorn's piano framing the whole beautifully and eloquently. Ben joins in on track two together with Roy Eldridge and Vic Dickenson for the bluesy Cool your motor. Johnny solos again in Gone with the wind in a lovely dreamy style. Eldridge's trumpet screams out to kick off Honey Hill and Vic Dickenson's trombone gives us another taste of his mastery of this instrument with Ben's muscular tone on tenor taking the baton from Vic and then passing it to Eldridge; everyone gets his turn in the spotlight here apart from the rhythm section who simply perform sterling support in the background. Track 5 is the album's title number Blues-a-plenty, a Johnny Hodges original, as are 9 of the 16 tracks. It is a great little song that is a brilliant demonstration of the talents of all these wonderful musicians who have carved their well merited place in jazz history. If you ever want to be lulled to sleep to jazz try the gorgeous Don't take your love from me with Johnny's soporifically breathy blowing sending you happily off to the land of nod. There are no duds on this disc and other highlights include the hugely popular and well covered Ellington, Strayhorn, Johnny Mercer composition Satin Doll which I'm willing to bet you'll never have heard in a more lyrically perfect version with Hodges' singing tone so incredibly voice like. If you tried the suggested sleeping pill in the shape of Don't take your love from me you'll have another chance to drift off again with its alternate take included as track 10 in a slightly longer version. With Reelin' and rockin' you also get two takes and two chances to enjoy Dickenson's beautifully mellow trombone. On the second take you also get some amusing banter from the recording engineer when, the band having decided after a few bars that they'll start again in a different chord, he says he'll release the intro on its own as a single! Johnny and Ben stay together for the 5 bonus tracks but are joined by a whole other set of colleagues, including the great Ray Brown on bass moving up from a quartet and septet to an 11 piece band. Highlights here include Nite life in which we are treated to Jimmy Hamilton's clarinet and Les Spann's guitar framed by alto, tenor, trumpet and two trombones. My melancholy baby is beautifully introduced by Shorty Baker's wah-wah trumpet followed by Ben in softer mode. It's interesting that track 15 is listed as Untitled original with a note that it is clearly not Lotus Blossom which is has been listed as in both discographies and a Mosaic set. If anyone knows what it really is, since regrettably it appears there's no one left to ask, they should contact the record company who will no doubt be thrilled to give it its proper title, but it's a joy in any case. The disc concludes with a great Free for all that gives us a bit of everyone in turn but rather than real a `free for all' it is a perfectly measured and wonderfully presented way to end a hugely enjoyable disc of highly valuable archive material.

Steve Arloff



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