IMITATION may be the sincerest form of flattery, but jazz tributes to a bygone era can often be as stiff as the vinyl they're pressed on. Happily, that's not the case with the latest releases from the enterprising area band Hot Jazz.

Led by drummer Brooks Tegler, a devout disciple of Gene Krupa, Hot Jazz celebrates the small group legacies of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw with more than just an ear for accuracy. Spirit, color, imagination and, yes, swing are evident here as well.

"Fanfare for a King," the Goodman tribute, could be recommended for its performances alone, but the intelligent and sometimes unexpected choice of tunes ("Lulu's Back in Town") adds further enjoyment. The recording, largely devoted to the small group sessions Goodman made from 1935 to 1941, opens with a brisk version of "Seven Come Eleven." The arrangement, tellingly, doesn't mimic Charlie Christian's original guitar solo but instead conveys its spirit throughout the performance. The soaring, elegant lines of clarinetist Gary Gregg, John Cocuzzi's spry and unmistakable vibraharp and Tegler's solid timekeeping are first rate. Likewise, with each successive cut, the band evokes strong memories of Goodman, Christian, Krupa and Lionel Hampton, among other greats, without sounding slavishly imitative or the least bit academic.

On "Hot Jazz Plays Artie Shaw and John Kirby," Tegler's band pays tribute to the Gramercy Five recordings made by Shaw, once Goodman's arch rival, and the vastly underappreciated John Kirby Sextet. Again, Hot Jazz acquits itself honorably. The ensemble approach to some of the Shaw material, much of which was ahead of its time, is particularly sensitive, and trumpeter Clyde Hunt consistently enlivens the Kirby program. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable retrospective.

HOT JAZZ --

"Fanfare for a King" (Beau Tie cassette); "Hot Jazz Plays Artie Shaw and John Kirby" (Beau Tie cassette FCJ241). Appearing at the Ice House Cafe Friday and Saturday.