Tribute albums, by and large, have become a cheap marketing ploy for unimaginative record companies and artists looking to cash in on the legacy of more popular performers and to appeal to what they assume is a public uninterested in hearing challenging or original material. Just look at the way-too-many releases “honoring,” say, Miles or Duke. Of course they’re worthy of tribute, but not necessarily an entire album’s worth by every artist on the block, most with nothing special to say about the music.
There are exceptions, however. Those come when an artist has a deep personal tie to the music of a peer or predecessor, when he or she has been touched by the other’s music and is moved by more than potential CD sales to offer testimony to that inspiration.
Terry Gibbs’ From Me to You, an album in honor of the late Lionel Hampton, is one of those exceptions, a joyful tribute from one vibes master to another.
Fifteen years Hampton’s junior, Gibbs (now a spry 79) came of musical age listening to Hamp and, more than six decades later, still considers him his most important influence, extending beyond their shared instrument to a general sense of delight in making music that’s missing from many of their followers.
Though Gibbs moved in more of a bop direction than swing mainstay Hampton, he sticks here to standards associated with his mentor and originals that fit the Hampton mold. Along with a fine ensemble of West Coast players (including tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb, pianist Mike Melvoin, guitarist Anthony Wilson and hotshot organist Joey DeFrancesco), Gibbs romps through Hamp classics like “Flying Home,” “Red Top” and “Hey Ba-Ba-Re-Bop” with a zeal (and skill) sure to make Hamp proud. He even turns in some impressive two-finger piano solos (a Hamp trademark) on “Two-Finger Boogie Shuffle,” and offers rare, novelty-style vocals on four tracks—which is about three too many, but why curb the man’s enthusiasm on what’s clearly a heartfelt and festive occasion.
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