Over the years, there have been at least two short-lived jazz combos calling themselves the Memphis Nighthawks. The first recorded some 78s for Vocalion in 1932; the second named themselves after the first group and were active in Illinois in the '70s. And neither group was actually from Memphis; they simply liked the way the name sounded. The ‘70s combo is the one heard on Jazz Lips, which was recorded for Delmark in 1976 and 1977 and reissued on CD in 2009 (with five previously unreleased bonus tracks). This group's only other album was a live LP recorded for Golden Crest in 1978 (Live at the Stabilizer), but their studio album for Delmark has a reputation for being much stronger -- and it isn't hard to see why. Jazz Lips is excellent. Reedman/group leader Ron DeWar, trumpeter Steve Jensen, trombonist Joel Helleny, bass saxman Dave Feinman, and banjoist/guitarist Mike Miller are in fine form on time-tested songs like Walter Donaldson's "Changes," Jelly Roll Morton's "Shreveport Stomp," and the Lillian Hardin Armstrong-composed title track, and drummer Bob Kornacher (of Dixie Stompers fame) adds to the excitement when he joins them on several selections. The performances on this 62-minute disc are mostly Dixieland, although parts of Jazz Lips venture into classic jazz territory. Classic jazz -- that is, post-Dixieland jazz from the mid- to late '20s and early '30s -- was essentially early swing. It was swing that preceded the Swing Era, and this reissue demonstrates that the Memphis Nighthawks could play classic jazz as enthusiastically as they played Dixieland. Although Live at the Stabilizer is known for being uneven, lovers of '20s and early '30s-style jazz can't go wrong with Jazz Lips.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson