A fine album by Johnny Hodges, but with no solos by Coltrane
David A. Iliff | 04/17/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The rating is for the high quality of the music, and emphatically not for the packaging and marketing of this CD. The album is of historic interest as it comprises the only studio recordings made by the Johnny Hodges band while John Coltrane was a member, most of the other sidemen being former Ellingtonians or guests from Duke Ellington's orchestra. The music is excellent: Johnny Hodges is on superb form throughout; all of Harold Baker's trumpet solos are exquisite, as is Jimmy Hamilton's clarinet playing on "If you were mine",while Louie Bellson demonstrates that he was surely the best drummer ever to play with Ellington.
The CD is marketed under John Coltrane's name. However anyone who buys this record expecting to hear any solos by Coltrane will be disappointed; Coltrane is the one horn player in the band who does not play any solos. The liner notes are misleading and fail to point this out; without actually telling lies, the writer of them appears to imply that Coltrane does solo, by mentioning that "Smoke gets in your eyes", which is part of the ballad medley, was Coltrane's regular feature with the band, but failing to indicate that it is actually Harry Carney (on baritone) who is featured on this song on the record. One track, "Madame Butterfly", does contain two passages of tenor solo, which are clearly the work of Jimmy Hamilton (whose earthy tenor playing is in fascinating contrast to his mellifluous sound on clarinet). The notes fail to identify the soloist, and uninitiated listeners may mistakenly think that they are hearing early Coltrane.
The ethics of marketing these sessions under Coltrane's name are questionable. It is arguable that many more copies of the CD are likely to be sold by dressing it up as a John Coltrane album than if it were issued under the name of the leader, Johnny Hodges, but this may lead to some buyers feeling that they have been cheated. Conversely if the misuse of Coltrane's name results in a wider audience being exposed to this delightful music, then clearly some good has come out of it.
Although Coltrane did not solo on any of this band's studio recordings, all of which are collated on this album, there are in existence three well-recorded live tracks by this same Hodges band which do feature Coltrane as a soloist; they were issued on an LP entitled "First Steps", but have not, to my knowledge, yet appeared on CD. Coltrane's solos on these three tracks show that he had already by then developed his highly personal and original style which was to become well known the following year when he joined Miles Davis. These recordings are well worth looking for.