One of the regular side projects of the Ellington Orchestra was to let the group back the Duke’s alto sax player Johnny Hodges. Billy Strayhorn, Ellington’s collaborator in composition, leads the Ellington Orchestra in this 1961 session. Hodges had the lushest and most beautiful tone of any player before or since. He started with Ellington in 1928, left for a few years in the early 1950’s, but otherwise stayed with the orchestra until his death in 1970. Playing a set of mostly Ellington and Hodges compositions arranged by Strayhorn, Hodges delivers a performance worthy of all this talent.
When Hodges is at his best as he is here, you can sit back and luxuriate in his luscious tone and phrasing. Van Gelder spotlights Hodges and presenting him a bit larger than life, but I’m not complaining. The recording presents a rather large if not terribly realistic soundstage around Hodges. Those cavils aside, Hodges’ horn is captured to perfection. This reissue mastered at Sterling Sound and pressed by Analogue Productions’ Quality Record Pressings is far superior to the original. Like most of the Verve title in this series, this is a good audiophile record to show off your system.