Straight out of the gate, the first three tracks of Centennial Celebration show why Art Tatum is still the greatest and why the artful, entertaining and impressive Lionel Hampton enjoyed a seven-decade run as one of the world's sought after musicians.
Joined by the great Buddy Rich for an August 1955 date in Los Angeles during Hampton's brief break from filming The Benny Goodman Story in Hollywood, these three masters, brought together for the occasion by Norman Granz, pour all the technique and devotion in the world into everything they do. They offer splendidly original renditions of "Perdido," "Makin' Whoopee" and "Body and Soul" that hew closely to the songs but allow plenty of room for inspired improvisation. The vibes master chimes out inventive, mellifluous lines of magic that are a winning match for Tatum's incredible presence.
The pianist does some spectacular runs and we'd wish he'd been encouraged to 'run' on a bit more here with additional solo space. For instance, in the fantastic "Makin' Whoopee," Hampton's albeit lovely offerings ride a little too strongly over the piano. Tatum remains on board for two subsequent tracks ("Somebody Loves Me" and a slowish "Deep Purple") produced at a later session in September 1955, also supported by Rich. While these two pieces are enjoyable, the addition of three other playerstrumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Red Callenderactually subtracts from the sublime paring of the dazzling headliners.
Also, less effective than the opening, good-natured romp are three additional tunes selected from live Blue Note performances in 1991 celebrating then 82-year-old Hamp, with Hank Jones on the piano bench, as well as Clark Terry and Edison (trumpets), James Moody and Buddy Tate (tenors), along with trombonist Al Grey, bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Grady Tate. It's a full house, perhaps a little too full. Somehow it all doesn't quite satisfy as much as the more focused earlier tracks. Perhaps the CD doesn't benefit from the sudden, great leap in time and circumstances, the first instance feeling much more intimate and almost flawless. The juxtaposition certainly provides a jarring change of mood and purpose. Being there at the Blue Note may have been a blast (the vociferous live audience seems to be having a good time) but what results, at least from the recorded evidence, sounds more like a loose jam session, with the brilliant Jones at times barely heard over the din and especially the ever-present, hard-driving backbeat. Luckily for listeners, Jones gets to stretch out a little with a pleasing solo on "Ring Dem Bells" and what he does sparkles. While the rest of the entertainment is likeably rambunctious, with so much going on in the full-throttle brass and rhythm sections even Hampton sometimes has to play second fiddle.
The two-CD box set, The European Concerts (1953-1954), celebrates Hampton and his orchestra. The highs on both CDs tend to reside more impressively in the 1954 concerts, for which Hampton really got his top-notch band to swing. Showmanship is the game here and Hampton and his band score often. Musical standouts include a sizzling "How High the Moon" (Dusseldorf, November 1954) with Hampton providing bass harmonies, supported by guitarist Billy Mackel, and mallets flying on Hampton's signature "Flying Home," which also offers Jon Peters' soaring tenor take on Illinois Jacquet's famed solo, but adding his own innovations along the way. As an extra treat, Hampton plays piano on "Hamp's Boogie Woogie" and then vocalizes on the rousing "Hey BaBa Re Bop" and a bonus track (out of the CD's timeline, from 1949) assigns him to drums in a duo "battle" with Curley Hamner (Hamp played drums before vibes). Also pleasurable are sweet versions of the slower-paced "Tenderly" and "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Popular Hampton tunes are repeated in the different settings, affording fans a chance to hear how these terrific players handled the improvisations. Useful liner notes give a full rundown of the many players and soloists on the various tracks, as there were differing versions of the band at times.
As Billie Holiday put it, there's happy blues and there's sad blues so sometimes the blues can cheer you up. And that's the way it is with Mostly Bluesproduced in March and April of 1988 when Hampton was just approaching his 80s. Pianist Bobby Scott and guitarist Joe Beck add to the good vibe throughout, backed up by two effective rhythm sections: drummer Grady Tate and bassist Bob Cranshaw on the initial five tracks, drummer Chris Parker and bassist Anthony Jackson inheriting the last four.
Though this was one of Hampton's last recordings, he hasn't lost his touch or charm in these relaxed sessions featuring three blues and six other pieces (including the aptly-named-for-the-theme-of-this CD-yet-not-actually-a-blues, "Bye Bye Blues") and well-trod but pleasing standards ("Someday My Prince Will Come," "Take the 'A' Train," "Honeysuckle Rose" and a breezy "Gone With the Wind.") While there aren't any big surprises, it's fun. Check out Beck's mellow deep-from-the-Delta-feeling solo on the title track, backed up with like-minded support from the more-than-capable Scott, then smoothly and soulfully "mood-ified" by Hampton. Adding to the mix is a funked up version of the 1922 tune "Limehouse Blues."
Hampton may not be the younger self who soared in those '50s performances but still plied his trade with the best of 'em. Musical fashions come and go but even today100 years since Hampton's birththis stylish offering swings true.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Perdido, Makin' Woopee, Body and Soul, Somebody Loves Me, Deep Purple, Hamp's Boogie Woogie, Ring Dem Bells, Flyin' Home.
Personnel: (Tracks 1-3) Vibes: Lionel Hampton; piano: Art Tatum; drums: Buddy Rich. (Tracks 4 and 5) Same as above, joined by trumpet: Harry "Sweets" Edison; guitar Barney Kessel; bass: Red Callender. (Tracks 6-8) Vibes: Lionel Hampton; trumpet, flugelhorn: Clark Terry; trumpet: Harry "Sweets" Edison; tenor saxophones: James Moody, Buddy Tate; trombone: Al Grey; piano: Hank Jones; bass: Milt Hinton; drums: Grady Tate.
The European Concerts, 1953-1954
Tracks: CD I : Opener, Oh Rock, On the Sunny Side of the Street, Star Dust, How High the Moon, Vibe Boogie/Flyin' Home, Jam Blues, Vibes Boogie, How High the Moon, Red Light Blues, Set My Soul On Fire, Rock Baby Rock, Star Dust No. 2.
CDII: Flyin' Home, Hamp's Boogie Woogie/Hey Baba Re Bop, The High and the Mightly/Tenderly, Our Love Is Here to Stay, Vibes Boogie No. 2, Jivin' the Blues, Fast Blues, Drums Feature, Again Flyin' Home, Drums Battle With Curley. Hamner.
CD I: Lionel Hampton's Big Band: (1-3) trumpet: Walter Williams, Clifford Brown, Art Farmer, Quincy Jones: trombone: Al Hayes, James Cleveland, Buster Cooper; alto sax: Gigi Gryce, Anthony Ortega; tenor: Clifford Solomon, Clifford Scott; b. sax: Oscar Estelle; piano: George Wallington; guitar: Billy Mackel; bass: Monk Montgomery; drums: Alan Dawson, Curley Hamner; Lionel Hampton: vibes, piano, drums, vocal). (4-13) trumpet: Wallace Davenport, Billy Brooks, Eddie Mullens, Nat Adderly; trombone: Al Hayse, Harold Roberts, Buster Cooper; alto sax: Bobby Plater, Jay Dennis; tenor: Jay Peters, Edwin Frazier; b. sax: Joe Evans; piano: Dwight Mitchell; guitar: Billy Mackel; bass: Peter Badie; drums: Wilford Eddleton; drums, vocals: Curley Hamner; vibes, piano, drums, vocals. Also, (10,11) vocals: Sonny Parker. And, (12) vocals: Beatrice Reading.
CD II: Lionel Hampton's Big Band: (1-10) trumpet: Wallace Davenport, Billy Brooks, Eddie Mullens, Nat Adderly; trombone: Al Hayse, Harold Roberts, Buster Cooper; alto sax: Bobby Plater, Jay Dennis; tenor: Jay Peters, Edwin Frazier; b. sax: Joe Evans; piano: Dwight Mitchell; guitar: Billy Mackel; bass: Peter Badie; drums: Wilford Eddleton; drums, vocals: Curley Hamner; vibes, piano, drums, vocals. (11) drums duet: Lionel Hampton, Curley Hamner.
Tracks: Bye Bye Blues, Someday My Prince Will Come, Take the 'A' Train, Blues for Jazz Beaux, Walkin' Uptown, Honeysuckle Rose, Mostly Blues, Limehouse Blues, Gone With the Wind.
Personnel: Vibes: Lionel Hampton; piano: Bobby Scott; and (tracks 1-5) guitar: Joe Beck, drums: Grady Tate; bass: Bob Cranshaw. In addition (tracks 6-9), drums: Chris Parker; bass: Anthony Jackson.