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Johnny Hodges: Triple Play

This was made during Brad McCuen’s all-too-brief reign as jazz A&R at Victor, when intelligence and taste prevailed. The idea of recording with three different groups over a couple of days appealed to Hodges very much, although he was disappointed that Grant Green, whom he greatly admired, was out of town at the time.

Three titles, “Monkey on a Limb” (for Shuma, Hodges’ pet), “Figurine” and “Big Boy Blues” were not on the original LP, but they were included on the subsequent Bluebird reissue Bob Porter produced, which is housed complete in this CD package along with John Clement’s notes. Several fine photographs by Chuck Stewart are a praiseworthy addition, but the personnels are presented in a deplorably confused and amateurish fashion. Jimmy Hamilton played clarinet as well as tenor and arranged “Big Boy Blues;” Mercer Ellington wrote and arranged “Figurine;” Jimmy Jones played piano on the second session only although he is shown as “second piano” on the others, a pay-off for sketches he provided.

There’s a different trumpet player on each session, first Roy Nance, then Cat Anderson and Roy Eldridge. Of their various solos, the most intriguing is Eldridge’s with plunger on “Fur Piece.” Of the trombonists, Buster Cooper, Lawrence Brown and Benny Powell, Cooper is the most surprising in his amusingly brusque interpretation of “The Nearness of You.” Hank Jones and Nat Pierce both impress on piano, the latter getting close to Ellington in sound and style. Tiny Grimes and Hodges are featured at agreeable length to good effect on “A Tiny Bit of Blues.” Billy Butler’s guitar, played on mike without amplifier, is also convincing on “Fur Piece,” a title relating to the Swedish hat Hodges planned taking on an upcoming European tour. Nance, Gonsalves, Carney and Aaron Bell acquit themselves as befitted their status as Ellingtonains, and Gus Johnson makes the first rhythm section sound superior.

Altogether, this happy, unpretentious set affords interesting glimpses of some 23 musicians, including Bill Berry on vibes.

Originally Published