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Johnny Hodges: The Complete Verve Johnny Hodges: Small Group Sessions ’56-’61

This is the second set of Johnny Hodges Verve reissues on Mosaic, the first covering his 1951 to 1955 work when he was not playing with Duke Ellington. Hodges rejoined Ellington in 1956, however, and has a number of Duke’s sidemen and ex-sidemen with him (as he had between 1951 and 1955, actually). They include trumpeters Clark Terry, Ray Nance and Shorty Baker, trombonists Lawrence Brown, Quentin Jackson and Booty Wood, clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton, tenorman Ben Webster, baritonist Harry Carney, pianist Billy Strayhorn, bassist Wendell Marshall and drummers Sam Woodyard and Sonny Greer. Non-Ellingtonians include trumpeter Roy Eldridge, trombonist Vic Dickenson, tenorman Jimmy Forrest, pianists Lou Levy, Russ Freeman and Jimmy Jones, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jo Jones. Not only is this a great assembly of talent, they’re mostly in top form for Hodges. Though Eldridge, with excessive screaming, and Webster, with too much rasping, have played tastelessly on other dates, here they control themselves.

There are many wonderful moments on this six-CD collection. These are primarily blowing sessions, but they contain some fine original compositions, including Ellington’s “Duke’s in Bed,” Strayhorn’s “Ballade for Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters” and “Three and Six” and Hamilton’s “Central Park Sing,” with its lovely harmony.

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