The loving way in which Lionel Hampton delicately tines out the intro melody to the opening cut, The High and the Mighty, is ample proof of why he was so esteemed, but this marvelous capture of a pre-60s gig in Belgium also shows what a killer showman the guy was. Few could be-bop a set of tuned metal planks like The Hamp. I caught him in the early 80s at the San Diego Zoo, and he still had it, but here he was in his prime, a zenith that lasted many years. Just at the close of the opening cut, a solo, the crowd was already incredibly enthusiastic, knowing what was to come.
For the second track, Hamp's Piano Blues, Lionel sits down to a keyboard, playing like a demon in tandem with Oscar Denard in front of an 18-piece big band. This isn't an affectation; Hampton could swing like crazy on the keys, as high-toned as on the vibes, with the most delightful melodies and vamps. The boys in the band get plenty of takes for themselves, the vibes player was no hog, but when everyone comes up to the Dixieland section of the segmented The History of Jazz, the audience starts keeping time to the wild meleé as guitarist Billy Mackel serves up a solo way ahead of its time. You have to hear the syncopations to believe what the band's doing.
The Chase as the DVD box has it, or The Big Chase as Hamp names it, is a hyperkinetic workout that's literally breathtaking, the sort of superchops interlude that every music lover drools over. Then comes Brussel Sprouts and an unbelievable blow-out on sax leading into Gladys, Lionel playing a single drumhead like a kit, plunging into gasp-drawing acrobatics with the sticks, then turning the song into a superjam, an extension of continung returns of the theme. To find something quite this hip again, you'd have to come up many years to the Montreux Fest double-LP anthology and its blow-out on the Average White Band's Pick Up the Pieces.
All the DVDs in this set are demonstrations of incredible musicianship but this is the most delightful of the set and perhaps the entire series. I can't imagine an aficionado of any stripe or genre not being bowled over by the virtuosity, cleverness, and sheer fun of it all...and, goddammit, that Hampton was one hell of a multi-musician!
Links to the reviews of the other DVDs in this set:
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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