In 1951 Duke Ellington's biggest star soloist decided to finally leave the band he had been with since 1928, seduced by JATP's impresario Norman Granz. The jazz world was perhaps heartbroken, but at the same time Hodges took with him, Ellingtonians Sonny Greer, Lawrence Brown and Al Sears, to form a small group called Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra. Arrangements by pianist Leroy Lovett and others consolidated their sound, which led to a hit record called "Castle Rock". The Hodges sound was decidedly more romping jump blues than the style of The Duke, but Hodges would always keep many Ellington standards in the book.
On this outing, we find a live version of the 1952 band, with the exception of drummer Greer, it is the same band that had the hit record. Trumpet player Emmet Berry plays with fire and passion, and he's very strong. Tenor Saxist Sears sounds much like he did with Duke, pacing his solos with an imperative crescendo, often leading to an explosively rocking climax. Brown and Hodges are in perfect form, fully mature here from their years with Ellington, and generally leading the charge with their distinctive styles. Welcome to a warm and cheerful outing, a rare glimpse of this band performing live.