By Frank Alkyer | Published October 2022
Ah, the light-swinging beauty of the great Johnny Hodges on alto saxophone. His tone and timbre helped fuel the greatest of Duke Ellington’s orchestras as well as his own small ensemble work. Known as Rabbit by his fellow musicians, Hodges would hop through the changes of a tune without missing a beat or breaking a sweat. Sweet, soulful and unforgettable is the only way to sum up his music — and saxophonist Owen Broder would agree. So much so, in fact, that Broder has dedicated his latest recording, Hodges: Front And Center, Vol. 1, to music made famous by Hodges. The recreation of nine Hodges-associated tunes stays true to the spirit of the originals, but with new arrangements for Broder’s smooth-as-silk alto and baritone saxophone work. The swing is impeccable on classics like “Royal Garden Blues,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter” and “Take The ‘A’ Train.” Joining Broder on this beautiful romp are trumpeter Riley Mulherkar, pianist Carmen Staaf, bassist Barry Stephenson and drummer Bryan Carter. All play their roles with incredible grace. Mulherkar serves as a trusty front-line foil for Broder’s saxophone explorations, adding just the right amounts of sweetness mixed with growl. Staaf is an up-and-coming first-call accompanist on the New York scene. Stephenson knows just where to place those foundational notes. And Carter practically swings his ass right off of the drum throne. In all, Hodges: Front And Center, Vol. 1 serves as a heartwarming reminder of the beauty of Rabbit and the timeless art of swing.