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Lionel Hampton: King of the Vibes

Lionel Hampton brought the percussive dynamics and flexibility of a great drummer (which he was) to the vibes, showing that it could be far more than a novelty instrument within the jazz ranks. His explosive, teeming solos and willingness to allow his band members to embrace showmanship in their performances also helped lay the groundwork for R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. All these elements of his life and many others are examined in this 70-minute retrospective that also includes some valuable commentary from current vibes standout Mike Mainieri and fellow percussionist Steve Smith. While their presence brings some insightful analysis and precise musical dissection to the proceedings, the footage of Hampton in his prime, reveling in the music or sharing quips and licks with such guests as Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa and Milt Buckner, is what saves this from being one more dry, reverential portrait of a legend.

Originally Published