The Johnny Hodges-Wild Bill Davis Project, Vol. 4. BLUE HODGE (LP). This out-of-print LP (which has not yet been reissued on CD) is the earliest of several matchups between altoist Johnny Hodges and organist Wild Bill Davis. With the assistance of Les Spann on guitar and flute, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes, Hodges and Davis mostly stick to fresh material, including three then-recent originals by Gary McFarland. Highlights include "Azure Te," "It Shouldn't Happen to a Dream" and "There Is No Greater Love," in addition to some swinging blues.
Recorded during his five year "vacation" from Duke Ellington's orchestra, this Johnny Hodges set features his band sticking mostly to standards. With trumpeter Harold "Shorty" Baker, trombonist Lawrence Brown, baritonist Harry Carney, pianist Call Cobbs, or Richie Powell, bassist John Williams, drummer Louis Bellson, and either Jimmy Hamilton or John Coltrane (who unfortunately does not solo) on tenor, Hodges had a particularly strong group. High points include "On the Sunny Side of the Street," the title track and a seven-song ballad medley.
These distinctive small-group sessions, featuring Duke Ellington as pianist in a blues context, are part of a group of recordings issued under the confusing titles Back to Back and Side by Side, and further reissued under the not particularly distinctive name of Blues Summit. But there should be no confusion about the high quality of music that came out of these sessions – it is all "cooking with gas" as the expression goes. From the jazz world, it would be difficult to find more profound soloists on traditional blues numbers than the Duke or his longtime collaborator Johnny Hodges, who does some of the most soulful playing of his career here.
Stan Laferrière's Big One brings everything in jazz history back to life, from the first signs of ragtime to contemporary fusion in a tasty record you can qualify as one half tribute, one half stylistic exercise. Because while each title on the album is a Laferrière composition, they have that familiar sound which could turn them into standards as great the music they recall. Educational value, yes, but apart from any questions of period or style, this is a jazz orchestra combining power with nuance, and its precision makes it stand out thanks to Stan Laferrière's unique feel for arrangements and his skill in instrumentation.