Owen Broder: Hodges: Front And Center – Vol. Two

Florida-raised saxophonist maintains the essence of his dedicatee's 1950s small-group sessions while injecting contemporary verve

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This is the follow-up to Front And Center Vol. 1, released by Owen Broder two years ago, and it’s every bit as good. The New York saxophonist returns with his top-notch quintet of trumpeter Riley Mulherkar (Wynton Marsalis, Theo Bleckmann, Dave Douglas), pianist Carmen Staaf (Dee Dee Bridgwater, Wayne Shorter, Allison Miller), bassist Barry Stephenson (Jon Batiste, Sullivan Fortner, Jamison Ross) and drummer Bryan Carter (McCoy Tyner, Kurt Elling, Emmet Cohen).

Broder’s homage to Johnny Hodges comprises numbers from the altoist’s small-group sessions of the 50s with a couple from the Ellington songbook. It’s been mostly inspired by two studio albums that Hodges co-led with Duke Ellington in 1959 – Back To Back and Side By Side. Broder’s superb arrangements maintain the essence of the originals while infusing contemporary verve.

Vol. Two opens with a trumpet flourish and smoky sax in the title track from Used To Be Duke, the 1956 LP recorded during Hodges’ five-year break from Ellington’s band. Then sax and trumpet synchronise rhythmically in Wabash Blues, which was covered by Hodges in Back To Back. The relaxed Back Beat and languid Shady Side both have Broder displaying his abilities on baritone sax. Written by Hodges, they were released on his 1960 LP Gerry Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges. Listen out for Carmen Staaf’s swinging dissonance and splendidly creative improvisation on piano, here and elsewhere on the album.

The fast-paced Big Smack, penned by Hodges with Ben Webster, was recorded in 1960 during their sextet session at San Francisco’s Jazz Cellar. Handy’s St Louis Blues, another piece covered in Back To Back, has a smart piano opening with sax and trumpet in tight lockstep. Ellington’s composition Stompy Jones has muted trumpet and a climactic sax / trumpet finish. It was recorded by his orchestra in 1934 and was the opener on Side By Side. The closing number, Star-Crossed Lovers, a heartfelt ballad with swooning trumpet and beautiful piano playing, comes from the Duke’s 1957 album Such Sweet Thunder.

Stephenson on bass and Carter on drums provide exemplary support throughout. Sound quality is excellent and the whole album is an absolute pleasure.

Discography
Used to Be Duke; Wabash Blues; Back Beat; Big Smack; St. Louis Blues; Shady Side; Stompy Jones; The Star-Crossed Lovers (40.48)
Broder (as, bar); Riley Mulherkar (t); Carmen Staaf (p); Barry Stephenson (b); Bryan Carter (d). New York 10-11 September 2021.
Outside In Music OIM 2402