The solo projects of Johnny Hodges were not so much individualistic divergences away from his duties with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, but served more as extensions of the vintage, classic style of jazz tailored to his personalized sound away from what he had to compete with sitting next to the raft of talent in Duke's big band. Working here in the mid-'60s with groups ranging from an octet to a 12-member (featuring nine extra tracks not included on the original 33 1/3 LP) or 15-piece group, Hodges showcases many of his original compositions. He primarily employs Ellington personnel, with the exception being the quite able Jimmy Jones at the piano on the majority of these selections. His son Johnny Hodges, Jr. plays drums on two tracks when Grady Tate or Gus Johnson sits out, while bass players chosen by the legendary alto saxophonist include the formidable Ernie Shepard and a young Richard Davis. These quite famous numbers are loaded with pungent solos by cream of the crop jazzmen such as trumpeter Cat Anderson, woodwind specialists Russell Procope and Jimmy Hamilton, the deeply soulful tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, and nimble trombonist Lawrence Brown. If you are a devout fan, you'll easily recognize favorites like the harmony-strewn evergreen "Main Stem" with fluttering clarinet and a patented Anderson solo, the Billy Strayhorn ballad "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" where Hodges is fully featured, "Mood Indigo" where the group is stripped down to four horns in guarded repast, and the very slow "Jeep's Blue" as the piano of Jones takes center stage. Brown's introduction and theme for "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me" sweetly showcases the underappreciated trombonist. Hodges wrote or co-wrote several of these tracks, including the lesser-known spiky-accented and vibrato-laden "Papa Knows" as offshoots of its precedent, "Mama Knows," and the two-note bass-heavy title track, delivered quicker than the established 4/4 rhythm. "Good Queen Bess" is a basic Count Basie-type bluesy theme, and there's the distinctly Ellingtonian blues "Little Brother" and the always rousing "Stompy Jones," where Procope and the gang trade lines profusely. It would be difficult to pick a favorite or a clunker, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anything more inspired or another project loaded with this much talent. Everybody knows Johnny Hodges and this stellar collection of all-stars, because they are absolutely the best at what they do.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos