The 11th installment in the complete chronological works of Lionel Hampton opens with a series of recordings made for the Decca label in Los Angeles during October of 1950. With flashy arrangements and topical vocals, these records have more than a little in common with what Johnny Otis was cooking up in L.A. during this same time period. The big difference lies in Hampton's occasional use of smooth crooners and instrumentation that shone with a Hollywood sheen. By the time he commenced recording for MGM in New York on April 17, 1951, Hamp was ready to slip into a much hipper groove with "Air Mail Special" and several scintillating originals: "Cool Train," "Gates Steps Out," and "Gladysee Bounce." Hampton's band also backed vocalist Irma Curry on "A Kiss Was Just a Kiss," with a melodramatic speech delivered by Eve Lynn in shameless imitation of R&B heartthrob Larry Darnell's famous recitation during his 1949 masterpiece "I'll Get Along Somehow." The instrumental "Alone" is a fine example of Hampton's ability to play a slow ballad on the vibraphone in front of a lacquered big band. The session of May 21, 1951, stands among the most unusual episodes in Hampton's entire career. Here the big band is yoked into service behind a very white choir that sings the Jewish folk melodies "Hannah, Hannah" and "Shalom, Shalom." This creates a wholesome if slightly cheesy atmosphere that one would expect to find in a Broadway musical. The session finishes off with a much stronger instrumental interpretation of a traditional Jewish melody, "Eli, Eli." The closing tracks come from a session that took place on October 16, 1951, using a smaller band, electric guitarist Chuck Norris, and R&B vocalist Sonny Parker. Jazz heads will best appreciate this compilation for the presence of many fine instrumentalists, including trumpeters Idrees Sulieman and Benny Bailey, trombonists Al Grey and Jimmy Cleveland, saxophonist Jerome Richardson, organist Milt Buckner, and R&B piano legend Floyd Dixon.
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