by Ian Mann
September 08, 2022
Ian Mann enjoys three very different albums released simultaneously by trumpeter and composer Chris Hodgkins.
Chris Hodgkins International Quartet - “Festooned With Trumpets”
Chris Hodgkins & His Band - “A Salute To Humphrey Lyttelton”
Vic Parker with Chris Hodgkins and Jed Williams - “At The Quebec Hotel”
In May 2022 trumpeter Chris Hodgkins took the bold step of simultaneously releasing three very different albums onto the market. It’s a move that’s not totally unprecedented, I recall another trumpeter, Jack Davies, doing something similar back in 2012.
Two of the albums feature Hodgkin’s recent projects, the other, credited to the late Vic Parker, reaches deep into the archives, but more on that later. I’ll begin with the first of the more recent recordings.
“FESTOONED WITH TRUMPETS”
Chris Hodgkins – trumpet, Jinjoo Yoo – piano, Wayne Wilkinson – guitar, Alison Rayner - bass
“Festooned With Trumpets” was recorded in 2019 following an Arts Council supported tour featuring Hodgkins’ International Quartet, a line up that included Korean born, New York based pianist Jinjoo Yoo, American guitarist Wayne Wilkinson and the British bassist Alison Rayner.
In a sense the project represents a continuation of the chamber jazz trio that recorded the albums “Present Continuous” (2005) and “Future Continuous” (2007), the second of which is reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann. This group featured Rayner on double bass and Max Brittain on guitar and the line up was subsequently expanded to a quartet with the addition of saxophonist Diane McLoughlin. The four piece released the conceptual “Boswell’s Journal”, a collaboration with the composer and arranger Eddie Harvey, in 2008.
In 2017 Hodgkins and Rayner toured with a quartet led by the American pianist Lenore Raphael, a line up that also included Wilkinson and which may have been the seed for this International project. A review of the live performance by Lenore Raphael & Friends at Brecon Jazz Club in 2017 is reviewed here;
With a drummer-less line up the International Quartet follows in the footsteps of Hodgkins’ previous ‘chamber jazz’ projects. Recorded at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho the album features eight arrangements of jazz standards plus three originals written by members of the quartet specifically for the tour. These originals acknowledge the influence of famous musicians who have inspired the individual composers.
Things commence with the title track, written by Hodgkins and arranged by Diane McLoughlin. The composer’s liner notes recount the tale of how Hodgkins lent his trumpet to Humphrey Lyttelton when the latter managed to leave his horn at home prior to a gig at the Bull’s Head in Barnes. After Hodgkins saved the day Humph thanked him by playing a track from Hodgkins’ then current album on the “Best of Jazz” radio show and recounting the tale, recalling how Hodgkins had “turned up like the US Cavalry, festooned with trumpets”. The tale establishes a nice link between this recording and the “Salute To Humphrey Lyttelton” project.
Musically the piece represents an uplifting start to the album, swinging in a relaxed manner despite the absence of drums and featuring fluent, pithy solos from Wilkinson on guitar, Hodgkins on vocalised, blues tinged trumpet and Yoo at the piano.
The leader sits out on Johnny Green’s famous ballad “Body and Soul”, which represents something of a feature for Yoo. The performance is introduced by an extended passage of lyrical solo piano. Rayner’s melodic double bass and Wilkinson’s understated guitar eventually join in but its Yoo’s elegant playing that really stands out.
The Lerner & Loewe song “Almost Like Being In Love” is performed here in an arrangement by Max Brittain. Besides Brittain’s involvement there are also links to Hodgkins’ previous work in that the arrangements throughout the album eschew any superfluous flourishes or musical flab. The solos are consistently concise and fluent, as evidenced here in the features for Hodgkins, Yoo, Wilkinson and Rayner. Hodgkins has previously spoken of following the dictum of the late, great cornet player Ruby Braff that jazz soloists and improvisers should always place their focus on “the adoration of the melody”.
The Rayner original “Two Hats And A Paper Bag” pays homage to another late and great, the inspirational bassist and composer Jaco Pastorius. Rayner recounts the story behind the title in the album liner notes, but you’ll have to buy the album in order to read it. Not surprisingly the composer’s bass figures strongly in the upbeat arrangement but there are also substantial contributions from Yoo and Wilkinson, both of whom feature as soloists as the selfless Hodgkins again sits out.
The trumpeter returns on the Matt Dennis tune “Angel Eyes”, which Hodgkins describes as “an old torch song”. There’s a suitably melancholy, after hours feel about Hodgkins’ playing on muted trumpet. Hodgkins eventually hands over to Yoo and Wilkinson, both of whom deliver a gentle, blues tinged lyricism in their solos. Next we hear from Rayner’s melodic, but deeply resonant double bass, before the sound of the leader’s mournful trumpet returns.
Wilkinson’s “Martino’s Waltz” represents a homage to his fellow guitarist Pat Martino, who Wilkinson cites as a major influence on his own playing. The piece is more up-tempo than its title might suggest and is a real tour de force for Wilkinson, one of the most virtuosic guitar pickers around. He receives vigorous support from Yoo and Rayner, with the pianist also featuring as a soloist.
Hodgkins returns on “I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan”, written by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz and arranged here by Max Brittain. The leader’s subtly bluesy muted trumpet is followed by Yoo’s piano and Wilkinson’s guitar.
The Johnny Hodges tune “Everybody Knows” explores broadly similar territory, but in a more overtly blues manner. Hodgkins, Yoo and Wilkinson again feature as soloists, as does Rayner at the bass.
The Frank Loesser song “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” is an up-tempo swinger with Rayner supplying the rhythmic impetus, aided and abetted by Wilkinson and/or Yoo. These two also feature as soloists alongside leader Hodgkins.
Written by David Mann and Bob Hilliard the song “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning” was the title track of a famous 1955 Frank Sinatra album. Here it’s a solo guitar feature for the nimble fingered Wilkinson, an outstanding but underrated jazz guitarist of the old school. Wilkinson’s adherence to the ‘classic’ jazz guitar sound has arguably prevented him from reaching out to the larger listening constituency that the skill of his playing undoubtedly deserves.
The album concludes with Wilkinson’s arrangement of “Flying Home”, a tune associated with both Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton. It’s a famously energetic piece and it doesn’t lack urgency even in this chamber jazz format. Some dazzling unison playing on the ‘head’ is followed by sparkling solos from Yoo, Hodgkins and Wilkinson.
This opening salvo in this Hodgkins ‘trilogy’ features some excellent playing, imaginative arrangements and a trio of engaging original compositions. It’s a worthy successor to Hodgkins’ impressive catalogue of ‘chamber jazz’ recordings and is possessed of an energy and joie de vivre that transcends the instrumental format in which it was recorded.
“A SALUTE TO HUMPHREY LYTTELTON”
Chris Hodgkins – trumpet, Henry Lowther – trumpet & flugelhorn, Noel Langley – trumpet, Charlotte Glasson – baritone sax, clarinet, penny whistle, Diane McLoughlin – alto & soprano sax, Alex Clarke – tenor sax, clarinet, Mark Bassey – trombone, Max Brittain – guitar, Jinjoo Yoo – piano, Amy Baldwin – double bass, Buster Birch – drums
In November and December 2021 Hodgkins and a stellar hand picked band embarked upon a lengthy UK tour with a show paying tribute to the late Humphrey Lyttelton (1921 – 2008).
Hodgkins’ liner notes explain the reasons behind the project;
The “Salute to Humphrey Lyttelton” is to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth and to showcase his wonderful life, times and music. As a lifelong fan of Humphrey Lyttelton I wanted to highlight how Humph led the way for the jazz revival of the late ‘40s and ‘50s by bringing jazz to the UK mainstream with ‘Bad Penny Blues’, the first UK jazz record to reach the Top 20. This album, and the tour that preceded it, is my dedication to Humph to thank him for his huge contribution to, and advocacy of, the UK jazz scene”.
Lyttelton became so famous as a radio personality that his importance as a musician and composer is sometimes overlooked. Hodgkins concentrates on the music of the man and the album repertoire includes many of Lyttleton’s own compositions alongside other tunes performed by the Lyttelton band, plus a couple of originals written by Hodgkins specifically for this project. Several members of the Hodgkins band are involved in the arranging process and overall this is very much a team effort.
The album was recorded at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London at the end of the tour and the recording band is slightly different from the touring line up, which featured both Alison Rayner and Wayne Wilkinson. Hodgkins also thanks the numerous ‘deps’ who stepped in at various points on the tour for musicians that had contracted Covid.
The album commences with a version of the Lyttelton tune “Cross A Busy Street” in a new arrangement by saxophonist Frank Griffith. This gets the album off to an invigorating start and features some colourful ensemble playing alongside the individual solos. Unfortunately the soloists aren’t listed by name but Brittain and Yoo are easy enough to identify, the horn players less so, but we get to hear from Bassey on trombone plus (I think) all three trumpeters and all three saxophonists. Baldwin and Birch also enjoy features and overall this is a fine introduction to the voices of the band.
“Cecil Beaton Strides” again is a Hodgkins original arranged by Alex Clarke. The eleven piece ensemble swings like mini big band while individual solos come from Yoo on piano and Bassey on trombone.
“Tribal Dance” was written in 1965 by pianist and composer Harry South. The Hodgkins Band’s version features another Frank Griffith arrangement. As its title might suggest the piece places a strong emphasis on ‘tribal’ rhythms and the arrangement also features vocalised trumpet sounds plus subsequent trumpet, sax and trombone solos.
“Fat Tuesday” is a tune by the West Indian saxophonist and clarinettist Freddy Grant who joined forces with Lyttelton to form the Grant-Lyttelton Paseo Jazz Band. This is performed in another Griffith arrangement and although he doesn’t actually play on the recording it is undeniable that Griffith makes a huge contribution to the success of the album as a whole. This is another vibrant and highly rhythmic piece with something of a calypso feel. It’s introduced by Birch at the drums and features solos for trumpet and piano plus a further drum feature for the irrepressible Birch.
Clarke and Glasson also feature strongly in the arrangement and there’s some terrific interplay between the brass and reeds.
“Susan” is a Hodgkins original, dedicated to Humph’s manager, Susan da Costa. Again this boasts a Frank Griffith arrangement and is a feature for Henry Lowther on mellifluous flugel horn. There are also some lush ensemble textures on this first ballad item.
The pace picks up again with “Holy Main”, a Lyttelton tune arranged for the Hodgkins Band by trombonist Mark Bassey. The trumpeters feature extensively and I think I’m correct in stating that all three take a solo here. Bassist Amy Baldwin also steps out of the shadows with an engaging solo.
A succession of Humph originals continues with “In Swinger”, this time arranged for the band by Alex Clarke. I’d guess that the opening muted trumpet salvo is from Hodgkins himself while Glasson solos on baritone. The piece also represents an excellent example of Clarke’s abilities as an arranger.
“Late Night Final” is one of Lyttelton’s slower tunes, a ballad with a suitably ‘after hours’ feel that is sometimes reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”. Frank Griffiths’ arrangement is a feature for Lowther on trumpet and Glasson on baritone sax, the latter demonstrating a remarkable fluency on the ‘big horn’.
Glasson’s own arranging skills are featured on the lively Lyttelton original “Mezz’s Tune/Mezzrow”. This was a piece that used to feature the versatile Lyttelton on clarinet. Glasson and Clarke play clarinets here with McLoughlin also featuring on soprano sax. Further solos come from Bassey on trombone, Yoo on piano and Brittain on guitar, with Glasson also doubling on baritone sax. Following a clarinet ‘stand off’ drummer Birch is featured towards the close.
The Lyttelton ballad “We Fell Out Of Love” features a pared down group featuring Yoo, Clarke, Brittain, Baldwin and Birch. It commences with the sound of unaccompanied piano, later joined in duet by the warm tones of Clarke’s tenor. Yoo’s lyrical piano soloing and Clarke’s ballad playing form the main focus with the rhythm section adding understated and sympathetic support.
Two Henry Lowther arrangements of Lyttelton tunes follow. Both “One For Buck” and “Wrestler’s Tricks” celebrate Humph’s musical relationship trumpet and bandleader Buck Clayton. The lively “One For Buck” leads off with Brittain’s guitar and includes features for trumpet and drums.
The suitably playful “Wrestler’s Tricks” is a swinging ‘mini big band’ arrangement featuring some fluent and fiery trumpeting in addition to sax and trombone solos.
Written by the man himself “Bad Penny Blues” was Humph’s ‘big hit’, entering the British charts in 1956. Johnny Parker’s famous piano riff is re-created here by Jinjoo You and this version also features solos from Lowther on trumpet, Clarke on tenor sax and Brittain on guitar.
At a time when female instrumentalists still represented something of a rarity Lyttelton’s bands regularly featured the talents of tenor saxophonist Kathy Stobart, later a bandleader in her own right. Lyttelton’s composition “Kath Meets Humph” celebrates their musical relationship and appears here in an arrangement by Jinjoo Yoo. Her piano playing is prominent and the arrangement is also notable for a fluent and emotive solo from trombonist Mark Bassey.
The album concludes with a Diane McLoughlin arrangement of the Lyttelton tune “Let’s Get Out”, which ends the album on a swinging, suitably celebratory note. Guitarist Brittain leads things off and a rollicking arrangement also features solos from McLoughlin’s alto, Clarke’s tenor and a remarkable set piece from Glasson, who Hodgkins refers too as “the Roland Kirk of the penny whistle”. Naturally the trumpets are featured too, this is a “Salute to Humph” after all, as is the excellent Bassey. Brittain returns for more before the close and Yoo also features on piano. Finally we hear from Baldwin and Birch as the album concludes much as it began with features for the whole of this excellent band.
One suspects that Lyttelton himself would have enjoyed hearing this album and the “Salute to Humph” project also has the approval of Susan da Costa, who continues to manage the late Lyttelton’s affairs.
It’s an album that highlights Lyttelton’s skills as a composer and although it’s a project awash with nostalgia the new arrangements breathe new life into these much loved compositions. The playing, from a band that strikes a good balance between youth and experience, is exceptional throughout.
The “Salute to Humph” album has garnered considerable critical acclaim as Lyttelton’s contribution to British jazz continues to be re-assessed and more widely appreciated.
VIC PARKER AT THE QUEBEC HOTEL
Vic Parker – guitar, Chris Hodgkins – cornet, Jed Williams – drums
Hodgkins was born in Cardiff and as a young musician he worked regularly on that city’s jazz scene.
In the mid ‘70s he played regular Monday and Wednesday night residences with the late guitarist Vic Parker at The Quebec Hotel, Crichton Street in the famous ‘Tiger Bay’ district. “We had a little duo, just playing standards and he would sing in a Cardiff accent”, recalls Hodgkins in his album notes.
Val Wilmer’s liner notes give a fuller account of the life of Parker, who was born in Cardiff in 1910 of Barbadian heritage and followed a musical career that took him to London but eventually brought him back to Cardiff. He died in 1978, shortly after these sessions were documented and this album represents the only available recording of Parker’s playing.
Parker enjoyed near cult status within the Cardiff jazz community and is still fondly remembered, which makes this archive release all the more welcome. The album features material from two separate sessions in 1976. The first, recorded on 14th January features Parker and Hodgkins, playing cornet, in a trio with drummer Jed Williams. A further five tracks featuring just the Parker / Hodgkins duo was captured on 4th February.
Williams (1952-2003) is another Welsh jazz hero who is perhaps best known for his work as a journalist and promoter administrator and who was once the Artistic Director of Brecon Jazz Festival, helping to turn it into one of the biggest and most successful jazz festivals in Europe. Taken far too early he too is much missed.
Understandably the quality of the recorded sound on this album is less pristine than on the other two releases, but it still manages to capture the energy and bonhomie of the performances. One can almost imagine being in the room with the musicians, especially as the hum of conversation and background chatter can be heard.
The album commences with brisk romps through “Back Home Again in Indiana” and “Cheek to Cheek” with Hodgkins’ cornet in the lead, propelled by Parker’s highly vigorous rhythmic guitar and Williams’ drums. The latter are rather far back in the mix and consequently many of the details of Williams’ playing are indistinct. On “Cheek to Cheek” Parker’s guitar briefly comes to the fore and there are also snatches of wordless vocals.
“Georgia On My Mind” is less frenetic and features some impressive high register playing from Hodgkins as Parker continues to fill an essentially rhythmic role. Nevertheless it’s Parker’s chording that’s at the heart of the music in this bass-less trio. A brisk version of the Rodgers and Hart song “You Took Advantage Of Me” find his guitar coming to the fore, but his soloing is still essentially chord based.
“Bill Coleman”, written by er… Bill Coleman finds Parker coming to the fore once again. One suspects that US trumpeter Coleman may have been an influence on Hodgkins’ own playing and that this tune was one of the cornet player’s selections. As one of the less familiar tunes on this disc it’s also one of the most interesting.
“Deep Purple” and the Duke Ellington composition “Solitude” follow, with Parker given a little solo space on each. On the quieter numbers such as “Solitude” the poor recording quality becomes even more evident. We’re really into ‘official bootleg’ territory here. Nevertheless the crowd sounds are highly evocative, we’re in a busy, happy pub and one can almost imagine oneself being there. Apparently the Quebec was eventually demolished in 2012 as the gentrification of ‘Tiger Bay’ continued. Quibbles about recording quality aside it’s good to have such an evocative musical souvenir of a much loved venue and a now vanished era.
Next up are “Undecided” and “I’ve Found A New Baby”, two mainstream jazz staples, and this trio session concludes with “Ida! Sweet as Apple Cider”, which offers plenty of Parker for your money, and “I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket”.
The duo session from February ‘76 commences with “C’est si Bon”. The recording quality here is slightly better allowing one to more fully appreciate the musical relationship between Hodgkins and Parker. The intimacy of the performances can perhaps be viewed as a precursor for Hodgkins’ later ‘chamber jazz’ albums, including “Festooned With Trumpets”. In this duo situation Parker is afforded more solo space and “C’est Si Bon” also appears to feature him whistling along to his playing, as does the following “At Sundown”.
“Blueberry Hill” finds the duo giving a jazzy twist to the old Fats Domino hit and the pair wind up this shorter session with “As Long As I Live” and “China Boy”.
The poor recording quality ensures that the Parker disc is really of historical value only, but it will mean a lot to those Cardiffians who still remember Parker and Williams and the Quebec Hotel. The playing from Parker, who has a very distinctive guitar style, and the then youthful Hodgkins is actually very good and there is much to enjoy here if one can cut through the background hubbub. Williams is rather too buried in the mix and it’s difficult to assess his contribution.
Hodgkins clearly remembers Parker with a lot of affection as his album notes make clear. The guitarist is also the dedicatee of “VP”, a Hodgkins / Diane McLoughlin composition that appears on the 2015 album “Back In You Own Backyard”, credited to Hodgkins and pianist Dave Price. Album review here;
Meanwhile the two studio quality albums represent excellent examples of Hodgkins’ craft. The Lyttelton album has attracted the most attention and understandably so, but personally I’m more drawn to the more intimate ‘chamber jazz’ sounds of “Festooned With Trumpets”, a worthy successor to Hodgkins’ previous triumphs in similar drummer-less formats.
“Festooned With Trumpets” - 4 Stars
“A Salute To Humphrey Lyttelton” - 4 Stars
“At The Quebec Hotel” - 3 Stars
blog comments powered by Disqus