Bobby Lewis, one of Chicago’s resident free spirits and most underappreciated musical treasures, is typically buoyant and masterful on his fifth date as leader for Southport Records, whom we must commend for having the good sense to place Bobby in a recording studio with several of his many friends and colleagues. The result of such an endeavor can never be anything less than . . . well, jolly good fun! Aside from being about as proficient a mainstream trumpeter as you’re likely to hear, Lewis really knows how to choose his sidemen (and –women). Everyone contributes his/her fair share on Havin’ Some Fun, and the musical barometer never indicates anything but clear skies and smooth sailing. The choice of songs is superb, with special plaudits for Dizzy Gillespie’s too–seldom–heard Latin gem, “Tanga” (enkindled by percussionists Alejo Poveda, Ruben Alvarez and Geraldo de Oliveira); Leonard Bernstein’s hauntingly lovely “Some Other Time,” from On the Town (wonderfully sung by Bonnie Herman); Claudio Roditi’s breezy bossa, “The Monster and the Flower,” and Eden Ahbez’s surprise smash from the early ’50s, “Nature Boy” (a charming duet for Lewis on flugel and Jeff Stitely on tabla and udu). Lewis wrote four songs, and each of them is impressive (including the ballad “Nalini,” written while en route to India and named for an Air India flight attendant who must have taken especially good care of him). Lewis returns to Jazz’s roots to end the session, leading a quintet (Jim Beebe, trombone; Chuck Hedges, clarinet; John Bany, bass; Paul Wertico, drums) on Wingy Manone’s “Strange Blues.” That’s one of four numbers on which Bobby plays trumpet (the others are “Tanga,” “Jasmine” and “Monster and the Flower”); he’s on flugel the rest of the way. In either case, his solos are consistently well–formed and persuasive. Lewis sings too (the second chorus, after Herman’s, on a tasteful arrangement of “Just Friends,” plus some vocalese/scat on bassist Walter Booker’s “Saudade”). “Just Friends,” by the way, features four clarinetists (Larry Combs, John Yeh, Julie DeRoche, Burl Lane), a bass clarinetist (Lawrie Bloom) and bassist (Rob Kassinger) from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. How’s that for keeping good company? Pat Mallinger, another of the Windy City’s unsung heroes, adds a potent voice on tenor (“Havin’ Some Fun”), soprano (“Nalini”) or alto sax (“Tanga,” “Saudade,” “Jasmine,” “Monster and the Flower”). As we said, everyone contributes including Lewis’s core group — pianist Jim Ryan, guitarist Curtis Robinson, bassist Thomas Kini, drummer Stitely, percussionist Poveda — and all of his talented guests, especially trombonist John Allred who is outstanding on “Tanga” and “Jasmine” (showing on the latter flashes of the great Frank Rosolino). One of the best parts of Just Havin’ Some Fun is that it’s contagious — once you start listening to Lewis and Co. you’ll quickly find that you’re having almost as much fun as they are.
Track listing: Just Havin’ Some Fun; Tanga; Nalini; Just Friends; Saudade; Jasmine; Some Other Time; Lady in the Moon; The Monster and the Flower; Nature Boy; Strange Blues (68:43).
Bobby Lewis, trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals; Jim Ryan, Kawai K47, Baldwin pianos; Thomas Kini, electric bass; Jeff Stitely, drums, tabla, udu; Curtis Robinson, guitar; Alejo Poveda, percussion, congas; Pat Mallinger, alto, soprano, tenor saxes; John Allred, trombone; Bonnie Herman, vocals. Track 2