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Following Tribute to the Greats, here is a second Delmark reissue of Euphonic LP recordings by Hodes (1904-1993). This master of blues-drenched jazz piano was a near contemporary and colleague of Louis Armstrong and would indeed have remembered Bessie Smith, the American blues singer. This 1976 solo session features songs she made famous. Previously unissued tracks include St Louis Blues, After You’ve Gone and an alternative take of Cakewalkin’ Babies from Home.

Hodes grew up in Chicago and moved to New York in the late 1930s. Here, on a friend’s Yamaha grand in Santa Monica, California, he rekindles the joy and excitement of pre-war jazz. He doesn’t try to match the blues empress’s imperious, haunting version of Alexander’s Ragtime Band, offering instead something more amiable. But Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out is intensely moving. The recording is intimate and high quality, except for glitches on some of the previously unissued tracks – wow and flutter on You’ve Been a Good Ole Wagon and an alarm clock going off on St Louis Blues.

The subtlety and intelligence of this playing shouldn’t be underrated. I heard Hodes at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh in the late 1980s, playing an upright piano, not the usual grand, and enchanting the mostly student audience. They were responding to the obvious sincerity and – to employ an overused word – authenticity in his work, felt to be a requirement for great ‘folk’ art. Style, of course, is always in some sense a construct – but it’s still an inescapable requirement in the performance of this wonderful music.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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