Lionel Hampton Mostly Blues
Lionel Hampton - Vibes
Bobby Scott - Piano
Joe Beck - Guitar
Grady Tate - Drums (tracks 1-5)
Bob Cranshaw - Bass (tracks 1-5)
Chris Parker- -Drums (tracks 6-9)
Anthony Jackson - Bass (tracks 6-9)
"... this album still lifts one's spirits as so many Hampton albums do."
Lionel Hampton was never one to give up. Marshall Royal said that Lionel was liable to just topple off the bandstand one night while playing the vibes and everybody would say "Well, that's the way he wanted to go out". Recorded in early 1988, as Hamp was approaching his 80th birthday, this was one of Lionel's last albums, although he didn't actually die until 2002. But his last years were exacerbated by arthritis and a stroke, which diminished his power to play.
In fact, parts of this album are sad, since Hamp shows signs of decreasing dexterity at the vibraphone. Sometimes he sounds tentative and he occasionally gets out-of-synch with the rest of the band (ass he does in Someday My Prince Will Come). Yet his spirit was still undaunted and he never lost the innate ability to swing. He was one of those jazzmen who improvised in such a way that you could always sense the tune behind the solo. Even when he falters, he finds an adroit way of getting out of it.
The album is mis-named, since several of the tunes are not blues at all. But Blues for Jazz Beaux is a genuine blues and it swings magnificently, thanks especially to the propulsive drumming by Grady Tate. Having started tentatively, Hamp seems to warm up by the time we reach Walkin' Uptown, another blues where his vibes artistry is undimmed. And Hamp's shouts and grunts prove that he is really enjoying himself. Lionel starts Honeysuckle Rose unaccompanied; Joe Back contributes a Wes Montgomery-like solo; and Hamp interpolates the well-known vamp which apparently originated with Fletcher Henderson in 1932.
Beck's guitar introduction to the title-track is bluesily funky, followed by an equally potent piano solo from Bobby Scott. Lionel revels in the leisurely tune, while unafraid to step adventurously across bar-lines.
Limehouse Blues is given an unusual jazz-rock beat, and the CD ends with Gone With the Wind, which has a hint of a rocky rhythm and a theme which is actually only stated towards the end. Here Lionel exhbits his familiar agility on the vibes.
Both groups accompany Hampton sympathetically, with Bobby Scott and Joe Beck taking a lot of the solos. Sonny's piano backing is just right to support Hamp's unpredictability. Despite Hamp's increasing age, this album still lifts one's spirits as so many Hampton albums do.
Lionel Hampton laid down these nine tracks, the products of two sessions in March and April 1988, with two quintets. Guitarist Joe Beck and pianist Booby Scott remained constant but there were changes in the bass and drums. Ted Macero was the producer for both sessions and he and his engineers ensured a fine aural ride.
There are three Blues and six standards in the running order and there are plenty of opportunities for Hampton and Scott in particular to stretch out at leisure. Scott is an especially adept performer and his bluesy solo on the opening track bisects Hamp's own solos. Someday My Prince Will Come can still cause some problems for improvisers due to its metre - and here the band switches from 3/4 to 4/4 for the ride-out - which makes it even more interesting. Hampton shows us something of his range here, going from filigree intimacy to the relaxed but driving intensity of his blues chorus; relaxed intensity here not resulting in contradiction but zestful drama.
Fortunately interest in time signatures and imaginative arrangements were something of a hallmark of the dates. Blues for Jazz Beaux for instance goes into a shuffle beat over which there are some fine blues licks on show. And Joe Beck, rather underused throughout the dates if truth be known, at least opens the title track, whereupon he's followed by the rolling, blues-drenched playing of Scott, a consummately articulate performer. When Hamp joins they all lock into a solid groove. A small problem; I'm not a huge fan of the sound of Bob Cranshaw's bass.
Limehouse Blues gets a funky makeover with another good guitar and an even better piano solo. Gone with the Wind melodically speaking goes around the houses until the final statement of the tune, in a way that not even that master of the baroque tease, Erroll Garner, would have envisaged. As you'd probably expect Walkin' Uptown is one of those up-tempo finger-popping, twelve-bar evergreens.
This is not to be written off as yet another latter-day Hampton session. The arrangements are buoyant, varied and sometimes unusual and the solos are often high class.
Jonathan Woolf, Musicweb-international.com