Topping off a wealth of full-band recordings, the various stars of Ellington's great outfit recorded many combo sides under their own names. And while not on the same sophisticated level of classic Ellingtonia, the late-'30s material cut by Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, and Rex Stewart is packed with tasty solo work and some of the finest examples of early small-group swing. These later examples from 1958-1959 feature Hodges backed by both Ellington and Billy Strayhorn on piano and such non-Duke luminaries as Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, Harry "Sweets" Edison, and Jo Jones. Like its companion album, Back to Back, Side by Side has a loose, jam session feel, with all the soloists stretching out. Hodges is in top form throughout, while Edison and Webster man their spots just fine. Highlights include the sveltely swinging "Going Up" and Hodges' bluesy closer, "You Need to Rock." A must for fans of vintage combo swing.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook