|Some abstract business for a straight ahead album!
Johnny Hodges & Wild Bill Davis - Mess of Blues (1963)
This somewhat unusual pairing was a thing for much of the 60's until Hodges died. If you've spent any time listening to Duke Ellington, your aware of Johnny Hodge's alto sound and style. As for Wild Bill Davis - think somewhere between Shirley Scott and the dude outside the Wurlitzer store in the mall. So yeah, if you're a jazz purist or a Jimmy Smith fan, his sound takes getting used to.
This is not a "heavy" album by any means. By all accounts you could consider this a "light" jazz album; something you might put on in say, a pandemic? After a bad day at work?
First off, despite the title, most of the album has a feel-good quality to it. It might seem somewhat obvious to say, but there is something wonderfully Ellington-ian to it. Aside from three compositions of Duke's and his lead alto man, that feeling is there throughout the album: the easy swing feel that still has a deep pocket; the relaxed manner of approach that still has wonderful dynamics, keeping it afloat. Elegance with sophistication.
Then there's the addition of guitarist Kenny Burrell, a huge Ellington admirer. He keeps his solos cool and choice but still impressive and of course, will killer soul. Ed Shaughnessy on drums is all pro as you might expect from a future Tonight Show drummer (with Doc Severinsen); achieving everything that's needed at any given time, and always swingin'.
Side one is solid through and through. Side two has the aptly titled Bill Davis original "Stolen Sweets" which is a bit overly poppy; as is the version of Ellington's "Lost in Meditation" (it's a Verve release, after all). The best cuts on the album are "Jones", "Love You Madly" and Hodges "A & R Blues".
At 30 minutes it ain't gonna hurt ya, and it might even cure what ails ya. - Kendo