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Jutta Hipp: Jutta Hipp With Zoot Sims – Blue Note 1530

Marc Davis By

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The title is Jutta Hipp With Zoot Sims, but it should be the other way around.

No knock on Jutta Hipp. She's great—a lively, fluid pianist who really could have been a big player in the 1950s bop scene if she hadn't suddenly disappeared and dropped out, forever. This is her date—a 1956 recording with a wonderful hard bop quintet. And if she weren't totally overshadowed by Zoot Sims, listeners might say, "Wow, that's the album where she really broke out."

Except she really is overshadowed by Zoot Sims, who is a non-stop dynamo on every single track. He's one of those rare tenors who play equally well on speedy bop numbers and smoky ballads. It's not that Hipp isn't interesting; it's that Sims is more so. He dominates the album, partly because he takes the lead solo every time, and therefore sets the pace, and partly because he's a whirlwind of interesting sounds.

Hipp was a virtual unknown at the time, and a rarity—a German and a woman who could play bluesy piano like Horace Silver. Sims, by contrast, was famous from various big bands and as one of Woody Herman's "Four Brothers." They make an unlikely pair, but they play well together.

The album starts with a generic blues jam called, appropriately, "Just Blues." The credits say Sims wrote this, but it sounds entirely improvised to me—like one of those Jazz at Philharmonic things, where everyone riffs on the same blues chords for 10 minutes. It's fun.

The CD continues with Sims on a smoldering version of the ballad "Violets for Your Furs." It says something that he's equally captivating on the blues and ballads. An upbeat bop number called "Down Home" follows, and then, two cuts later, a wonderful take on "Wee Dot," the ultimate hard bop tune recorded definitively by the The Jazz Messengers only two years earlier. The Hipp-Sims version won't make you forget Art Blakey and Clifford Brown, but it's marvelous in its own way.

The only down side? The weak performance of trumpeter Jerry Lloyd. He tries so hard to keep up and doesn't even come close. On the solos, he spits out short phrases, stops, tries again, stops, and never quite gets it. And he's so low in the mix that you wonder if he was playing in the back of the room or if Rudy Van Gelder forgot to give him a mic.

The CD ends with a fast romp on the George Gershwin classic "'S Wonderful." It's a joyous rendition, so I feel guilty complaining that I can't hear the original melody anywhere. I guess they're playing on the Gershwin chords, but I wouldn't want to vouch for it. Still, much fun.

Anyway, get this CD. I don't know if it's Zoot Sims best ever, but I can't imagine there are many better than this.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Once rare, now with oodles of copies, new and used

Cost: $6 used

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