Owen Broder, Hodges: Front and Center Vol. 1 | The Vinyl Anachronist

owen broder

Johnny Hodges was certainly a legendary saxophone player, but his career as a bandleader and composer was sometimes overshadowed by his stint with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Not a bad problem to have, of course, but fellow saxophone player Owen Broder seeks to remedy the situation with Hodges: Front and Center, Vol. 1.

Words and Photos by Marc Phillips

It seems I’m still apologizing for spending so little time exploring these new releases that have come to my front door in 2023, especially when they’re on LP pressings as fine as this, but I’m embarrassed at the fact this album came out nearly a year ago and I’m just getting around to listening to it. Here’s the strange and wonderful thing about this new album from Owen Broder–with a title this busy, I assumed this was one of many jazz reissues that arrived at around the same time, a lost recording from Hodges…maybe. I sat and listened to it for the first time and it had that sweet patina on it, that historical haze that indicates this recording happened long ago. It didn’t, of course.

In fact, listening to the Owen Broder album for the first time reminded me of the first time I heard Johnny Hodges’ Side By Side (with Ellington, of course)–it wasn’t that long ago, to be honest. The music from that 1959 album was immediately engaging, and I bonded with its easy demeanor, its attention to melody and, of course, the solid performances. Owen Broder captures that musical trifecta in a way that draws bold lines between Hodges and his own playing on the sax, almost to the point where Front and Center sounds less like a tribute and more like a meeting between two performers who see eye to eye on a great many things.

Owen Broder, of course, has assembled a killer ensemble to breathe fresh life into compositions such as “Take the A Train” and the delightfully titled “Ballade for the Very Sad and Very Tired Lotus Eaters.” We have Riley Mulherkar on trumpet, Carmen Staaf on piano (Hodges’ first instrument, by the way), Barry Stephenson on bass and Bryan Carter on drums–and they swing. With tribute albums like this, it’s the easy way out to demand that your listeners require considerable knowledge going in, but Broder understands the easy connection Johnny Hodges made with his audiences without prologue, and Front and Center accomplishes the same thing. Just sit back and enjoy this album as if it’s any other jazz classic you’re hearing for the first time.

johnny hodges