Monday, August 19, 2013

Art Hodes Remembered Bessie

Born in Russia, but having emigrated to the US as a young boy, Art Hodes established himself as a blues and jazz pianist of note as well as a chronicler of the music. He produced an extensive discography over his life and now Delmark has reissued Hodes' 1970s Euphonic album I Remember Bessie with five additional selections. Hodes grew up in Chicago and had the opportunity as a young person to see King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Jelly roll Morton as well as Bessie Smith. The Empress of the Blues left a particularly deep impression on his music and the present album is comprised of solo piano interpretations of songs associated with Ms. Smith and also Ma Rainey as the cover of the original Euphonic LP noted.

As is noted in the liner booklet (which reproduces the original liner notes), Hodes plays in a two handed orchestral approach mixed with some ragtime and stride elements. He displayed a hard touch, but also restraint. He takes from the low-key Baby Won’t You Go Home to the stomp attack on Alexander’s Ragtime Band. There is a wistfulness to his rendition of Ma Rainey’s Yonder Comes The Blues, along with the tempered enthusiasm on Cake Walkin’ Babies From Home, which is also heard here on an alternate take. The restraint shown on blues like You’ve Been a Gold Ole Wagon, and Yellow Dog Blues is a substantial reason for the appeal of these performances. There is also a lovely performance of St. Louis Blues here, a number he would record on a number of occasions. This specific recording is intriguing in its own manner, starting wistfully before Hodes gets to barrel housing. 

Listening to these decades old recordings is a chance to listen to a master of blues and jazz piano whose playing is rooted in the early days of jazz, yet remains fresh and accessible to contemporary listeners. Art Hodes' I Remember Bessie is a delight.

I received a review copy from Delmark.  

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