Owen Broder – Hodges: Front And Centre Vol. 1

New York reedman Broder and quintet offer a swinging, lyrical tribute to Rabbit, seasoned with modernist touches

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New York based saxophonist Owen Broder and his excellent quintet perform nine numbers associated with the altoist Johnny Hodges. The tribute comprises pieces from Hodges’ small group sessions of the 50s with a selection from the Ellington / Strayhorn songbook.

Broder’s smart arrangements manage to maintain the fidelity of the originals whilst adding contemporary pizazz. A taste of the technique can be heard in the opener, Royal Garden Blues, where part way through pianist Carmen Staaf introduces some boppish harmonic diversions. The number was initially recorded by Hodges and Ellington for their 1959 studio album Back To Back.

Viscount comes next. It was co-written in 1957 by Hodges with Duke’s son Mercer Ellington and released on The Big Sound LP. With Riley Mulherkar superb on trumpet and Broder at his silkiest best on alto, it features the mellow tones of bassist Barry Stephenson.

The uptempo 18 Carrots For Rabbit comes from the 1959 album Gerry Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges. It displays Broder’s prowess on baritone sax with Bryan Carter dazzling on drums. I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter was recorded by Hodges in 1956 for release as a single the following year. Here Broder and Staaf provide an exquisite take on the number.

Alto and trumpet are in tight lockstep in the bright and breezy Digits. It was originally released by Clark Terry’s quintet on Serenade To A Bus Seat in 1957 and covered by Hodges in The Big Sound. Strayhorn’s Ballade For The Very Sad And Very Tired Lotus Eaters has Broder lyrical on baritone. It was first recorded by Hodges in 1956 and released on his album, Duke’s In Bed. This contemplative piece has Staaf suitably threnodic on piano with Carter hushed on drums.

In stark contrast a cheerful rendition of Take The A Train follows, with Broder and Mulherkar deft and succinct on alto and trumpet. The latter then leads beautifully in Paul Whiteman’s Just A Memory, supported by adroit soloing from Broder and Staaf. You can check it out here. The number was released by Hodges and Ellington on Side By Side in 1959. From the same album, Broder and the band follow with a jump blues, You Need To Rock, bringing the session to a neatly contrasting, foot-tapping close.

I understand Owen Broder is bringing out Vol. 2 in 2023. Can’t wait!

Discography
Royal Garden Blues; Viscount; 18 Carrots For Rabbit; I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter; Digits; Ballade For The Very Sad And Very Tired Lotus Eaters; Take The A Train; Just A Memory; You Need To Rock (39.18)
Broder (as, bar); Riley Mulherkar (t); Carmen Staaf (p); Barry Stephenson (b); Bryan Carter (d). New York, 10 & 11 September 2022.
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