Nicholas and Hodes are two names that should ring resounding bells in the ears of the average traditional jazz fan. Nicholas’ played with nearly all the greats including King Oliver (as Johnny Dodd’s successor), Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller and Kid Ory among a host of others- ironclad credentials by any estimation. Hodes enjoyed a similar pedigree through legendary stints with the likes of Bechet, Armstrong and Pee Wee Russell. At the time of this lively recording Nicholas was an expatriate living in Paris. A holiday in Chicago served as an opportune chance for Delmark’s Bob Koester to goad him into the studio and record a pair of albums, the first a quartet session (released as The New Orleans-Chicago Connection ) and this second featuring an All-Star Chicago septet.
The program of ten tunes and five alternates is fairly standard fare with sharp twists few and far between. But the instrumentation does deliver one intriguing surprise in the guise of Walbridge’s tuba, which works exceedingly well in the role of brass bass and offers a clever homage to Nicholas’ New Orleans roots. The locomotive shuffle of the ironic opener “Farewell Blues” gets things cooking over a brisk beat and the horns trade in some exciting collective interplay. Ellington’s “Creole Love Call” turns the stove down a few degrees and shows the Stompers softer side. Bluesman Leroy Carr’s “How Long Blues” makes an unusual appearance with Grosz’s brittle banjo-like fretwork setting a spidery web of support for Nicholas’ warm nocturnal melody. The string of alternates don’t deviate to much from their chosen brethren, but it’s still good to have them around as easy reference points and to flesh out the disc’s running time. One notable exception is the difference in Trottier’s contributions to the two rundowns of “Lulu’s Back In Town.” His ragged growling exclamations on the alternate version turn an otherwise by the numbers reading into something entirely more inflammatory. A short, but amusing snippet of studio chatter is tacked on to the disc’s close delivering a quickly closing shutter onto the sense of camaraderie these men felt for each other and the joy they shared in Nicholas’ brief return. It’s a flattering feeling that manifests regularly in the music and makes this disc well worth hearing.