The Complete Lionel Hampton Quartets and Quintets with Oscar Peterson on Verve
When Lionel Hampton left Benny Goodman in 1940 to form his own big band, he was only following in a line recently established by Goodman's other star soloists, Gene Krupa, Harry James, and Teddy Wilson. But despite the presence of Ben Webster and some excellent arrangements, Teddy's band failed within a year; Gene's did not begin to take off until he nabbed Roy Eldridge and Anita O'Day in 1941; and Harry's only began to see really big numbers when he shifted his emphasis to saccharine sweet ballads. By contrast, Hamp hit his public hard and heavy. Among the hip young jazzmen populating his first big band were Joe Newman, Fred Beckett, Dexter Gordon, and Illinois Jacquet, and in "Flying Home" and "Hamp's Boogie Woogie" he nailed two hits which were to remain in his book forever after.
At the time of the first session in this set, September 2, 1953, Hamp had just concluded a European tour with a band including Clifford Brown, Art Farmer, Jimmy Cleveland, Gigi Gryce, George Wallington, and other young boppers, so he was far from being unaware of recent trends in jazz when he confronted Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, and Buddy Rich in Verve's New York studio. As a matter of fact, he is the consummate jazz improviser on all of the performances in this set, and, just as importantly, he retains his own sound and personality throughout, never once alluding to any of the other modern vibists, such as Red Norvo, Milt Jackson, and Terry Gibbs. Yet, in his use of straight rather than syncopated eighth-notes and certain boppish trademark phrasings, such as sixteenth-note triplets, he is clearly not the same musician he was in the '30s.
The play list of the 50 tracks, from the first session to the last (on September 15, 1954), consists almost entirely of Swing Era standards and the occasional "original" blues theme. However, the most striking performances occur on Disc 3, where clarinetist Buddy De Franco's eight tracks remind us not so much of Hamp's days with Benny as to how much his other recordings would have benefited from similar unions with stellar hornmen, most particularly Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, and Benny Carter, all of whom were available to Norman Granz' Verve.
Starting with the surprising way-up "It's Only a Paper Moon," upon which Hamp lays out, and the equally surprising down-tempo shift on the normally fast "The Way You Look Tonight," DeFranco's April 1954 session then goes on to an initially medium-paced and incrementally rushed 17-minute version of "Flying Home," with the clarinetist's tone taking on a raw but exciting harshness. "These Foolish Things," by way of contrast, exemplifies both the best and worst of Buddy's playing at this time: while he was the most adept of all modern jazz clarinetists in capturing the stylistic and technical nuances of Dizzy and Bird, what he sacrificed in tonal purity lost him the respect of many lovers of the instrument. On "Don't Be That Way," for example, he plays his lines as though he were playing alto or trumpet rather than clarinet, but, to his ongoing credit, Buddy ultimately overcame this problem. Today, 45 years later, he can still waste most of his juniors at playing incendiary bop clarinet. Other tunes on this disc are the heated "Dinah," "On the Sunny Side of the Street," and Hamp's "Je Ne Sais Pas," a medium-tempoed boppish swinger.
Also deserving of praise, considering their reputations as widely popular soloists in their own right, are Peterson, Brown, Rich, and, on the final session, guitarist Herb Ellis, all of whom function in their roles as accompanists as the complete musicians they have always been. While Peterson is the most prominent soloist among the rhythm men, special commendation has to go to Rich for keeping his notorious ego in check and just doing his sideman's gig with all of the skill and swing of which he was capable. From first to last, his Jo Jones-influenced brushwork represents the apex of the art, one particularly exciting example of which can be heard on "China Boy," while his touch on the cymbals recalls no one else so much as Sid Catlett, one of his other acknowledged heroes.