As Delmark CEO and Chicago fixture for nearly half a century, Bob Koester makes no bones about his deep affection for traditional jazz. Throughout the idiom’s periodic lean years he’s provided a safe harbor of sorts for musicians’ to keep their sounds alive by financing new recording dates and re-pressing old ones. Art Hodes, radio host, jazz musicologist, publisher and pianist, was among those in Koester’s Delmark orbit and recorded frequently for the label. But significantly this recent collection is comprised of a cache of material originally intended for release on the Euphonic Sounds imprint. Two tracks did find a vinyl home on the long out of print album When Music Was Music, but the remaining lucky thirteen make their commercial debut on this beautifully programmed disc.
Sixty plus minutes of solo Hodes might seem like an endurance test to some, but the venerable ivory tickler as out from the onset to prove that his faculties are fertile enough to till the substantial space and turn up a consistently absorbing array of interpretations. Entries from the songbooks of legends like Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet (both of whom were among Hodes circle of friends) serve as the source for most of the material. Whether stamping out a rolling stride line punctuated by stabbing syncopated notes as on “Royal Garden Blues” or slowing things down to a barrelhouse crawl of “St. James Infirmary” his erudite fingers and clever touch always seem to coax the right mood from his keys. Other tracks, like the early Ellington classic “The Mooche” show off Hodes’ supreme patience in developing a melodic idea, starting with the rudiments and radiating in effusive, though highly personal directions. “Chimes Blues” works of the ringing tones suggested by its title and Hodes recreates them expertly with agile right hand peregrinations.
Hodes cut numerous ensemble sessions during his long tenure on the scene, but solo recitals such as this one are a comparative rarity. During his lengthy and varied career he took hits on several fronts from critics who claimed his divided attentions in the realms of writing, performance and broadcasting detracted from his overall effectiveness in each. Collections of this caliber prove these naysayers emphatically wrong. Koester continues be one of the surviving beacons for music of this sort and thanks are due Delmark for helping the date in its entirety see the light of day.
Jackass Blues/ Washboard Blues/ Royal Garden Blues/ Atlanta Blues/ Blue Turning Grey Over You/ St. James Infirmary/ Struttin’ With Some Barbecue/ The Mooch/ Just a Closer Walk With Thee/ Chimes Blues/ Cherry/ Tin Roof Blues/ Apex Blues/ Aunt Hagar’s Blues/ Farewell Blues.
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