Johnny Hodges

The Complete Verve Johnny Hodges Small Group Sessions 1956-1961

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Johnny Hodges was Duke Ellington's most important soloist, so when the alto saxophonist returned to his former employer in the fall of 1955 after leading his own band for just over four and a half years, he had Ellington's approval to record under his own name for Verve on a steady basis. This limited-edition box set collects all of Hodges' small-group sessions recorded for Verve between 1956 and 1961 (excepting some selections whose masters were lost), often with a number of sidemen on loan from Ellington. The leader's chops are best exhibited in the ballads and blues features, though his originals merit attention, too. Hodges hardly hogs the spotlight; he obviously takes his share of solos but generously features his guests and associates from the Ellington band. A nonet with Clark Terry, Ray Nance, Quentin Jackson, Jimmy Hamilton, Harry Carney, Billy Strayhorn, Jimmy Woode, and Sam Woodyard is easily the best all-around session within this compilation, with many fine tracks. The humorous "Just Squeeze Me," with Nance's hip vocals complemented by Terry's talkative horn in the background, as well as a surprising extended workout of "Take the 'A' Train," with Terry taking over the famous solo spotlight that Nance first recorded in 1941 (heard on fl├╝gelhorn) and followed by Nance on his swinging violin, are among its highlights. Some of the other veterans appearing in this collection include Roy Eldridge, Vic Dickenson, Ben Webster, and Herb Ellis. The atmosphere of each session is friendly and swinging, with the feeling that each take came together quickly, whether or not that was actually the case. While Johnny Hodges' recordings as a leader from this period never rivaled Duke Ellington's in either sales or critical acclaim, they proved to be consistently enjoyable and able to stand the test of time. The set includes 30 previously unissued tracks. The detailed liner notes and discography, along with the numerous photos, also help to make The Complete Verve Johnny Hodges Small Group Sessions 1956-1961 an essential purchase for swing fans, though it is a limited edition of just 7,500, so it is guaranteed to soar in value. It is available exclusively from www.mosaicrecords.com.

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