Johnny Hodges / Wild Bill Davis

In Atlantic City

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In jazz circles and among his immediate peers, Johnny Hodges was referred to as "Mr. Silvertone." And one great jazz story shows the high regard that other players had for his style: A sax player goes to his bandleader and asks for the night off. When the bandleader asks why, the sax player says, "I want to go see Johnny Hodges and try to hear how he gets that sound." The bandleader stuffs a 20 in the sax player's jacket and says, "You're going to hear the right man." Hodges' lines caressed the notes, and he could play in a totally authoritative fashion without resorting to a lot of upper-register squeakings or faux tenor honkings. He was always 110 percent in the pocket, the epitome of true swing. Even within the mighty Duke Ellington Orchestra, a well-oiled team with superb players, Hodges stood out as something special. The Live in Atlantic City reissue is part of RCA's celebration of Ellington's 100th birthday. It brings back a 1966 recording of Hodges sitting in with Wild Bill Davis' quartet in a small Atlantic City jazz bistro. The results are refreshing, catching Hodges in a relaxed setting. Longtime playing pals, Hodges had been sitting in with Davis' group every time Ellington came to town. The record is just about as casually swinging as you could imagine it being, the soloing all coming from a relaxed but buoyant atmosphere. Davis shows today's youngsters, the ones who have a fascination with all things swinging and Hammond B-3-influenced, where it all started. His tone ebbs and flows like a separate pulse in tandem to the music; it's Organ 101. Lawrence Brown's trombone work is exquisite and bluesy as all get out on the Hodges original "Taffy," and quartet regular Bob Brown contributes nice support on tenor and flute throughout. The drumming chores are pushed along nicely by Bobby Durham, while Dickie Thompson (who wrote "13 Women," the flip side of "Rock Around the Clock") plays some bluesy guitar riffs in between the spot-on Freddie Green-styled comping, shining brightly on Hodges' "Rockville"; six and a half minutes of the band locked in to a gentle but relentless groove with inspired soloing out of everybody. This is a top-notch session of top-notch musicians just enjoying one another's company. It's jazz that puts a smile on your face.

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