A new release on Audiophile, one of the George Buck Foundation family of labels is a CD split between the groups of pianists Art Hodes and Don Ewell Art Hodes Quintet/ Don Ewell Quartette. The Hodes session reissues Some Legendary Art and dates from a 1957 session with Eddie Burleton on Clarinet, Marty Grosz on guitar, Truck Parham on bass and Freddie Kohlman on drums. The Ewell 1959 session reissues Yellow Dog Blues which also had Grosz on guitar, along with Nappy Trottier on trumpet and Earl Murphy on bass. Both sessions were produced and supervised by Ewing D. Nunn.
Hodes was certainly a fine pianist well versed in the blues and the classic New Orleans and Chicago jazz traditions with the songs from the 20s and 30s starting with After You’ve Gone, and including Apex Blues, I Found a New Baby and Chimes Blues. Clarinetist Burleton is a new name to these ears but certainly plays well whether on Ain’t She Sweet, or B-Flat Blues with its three in the morning feel. Grosz acoustic 4-string guitar mostly provides chords to help propel the groove. On Apex Blues where Burleton and Kohlman sit out, takes a brief solo as he does on Ain’t She Sweet. The spare trio setting of Apex Blues” and also Chimes Blues, provides a setting in which Hodes displays his blues playing with a light touch. He conjures up more of a weary, late night feel as opposed to more of a stomping barrelhouse style. He does swing a bit harder on Angry. I have never heard a poor recording from Hodes, and this session with Grosz’s guitar is no exception.
I am not as familiar with Don Ewell, who grew up in Baltimore, before becoming another prominent pianist who was influenced by Jelly Roll Morton, Earl Hines and similar pianists. Ewell became part of the New Orleans revival working with Bunk Johnson and Baby Dodds, and later with Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Miff Mole,Kid Ory, and Jack Teagarden. This drummer-less date opens with Michigan Water Blues which he opens with Grosz joining in with Trottier adding some nice trumpet. On Atlanta Blues there is a similar approach with the pianist's thoughtful bluesy playing followed by a brief guitar solo and then Trottier rides the song out. Trottier opens Tishomingo Blues with wistful playing before some nice bluesy piano. Like Hodes, Ewell plays with restraint yet a crisp attack that generates a bluesy feel. There is a nice mix of material including George Bo Bo (originally recorded by Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five under the name of Lil’s Hot Shots); and New Orleans Hop Scop Blues by George Washington Thomas (Sippie Wallace’s older brother). Trottier does not play on the earlier number, but opens New Orleans Hop Scop Blues, with a hot chorus before Ewell takes the lead, then takes a very nice solo with some nice muted playing that lend a bluesy flavor which Ewell adds some nice piano embellishments to.
A nice rendition of the W.C. Handy composed Yellow Dog Blues concludes the reissue of the Ewell album. Both Hodes and Ewell are masters of the traditions explored here and approach the material in similar, but distinct styles. With the supporting players (especially Grosz whose four-string guitar enhances both sessions), this album presents some marvelous classic jazz.