Live In Zurich, Switzerland 2.5.1950
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra
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Duke Ellington was widely recorded in concert over his many decades in jazz, but the discovery of a previously unreleased live tape from 1950, in surprisingly listenable fidelity, is still an occasion worthy of applause. Of course the mere surfacing of the recording wouldn't mean a thing if it didn't have that swing, and this set does indeed. Accompanied by a relatively small group consisting of trumpeter Ray Nance (who also sings), clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Jimmy Hamilton, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, bassist/bass clarinetist Harry Carney, both Sonny Greer and Butch Ballard on drums, and Ellington's longtime co-writer Billy Strayhorn also on piano, plus the vocalist Kay Davis, Ellington is in fine form throughout. Ever the gentleman, Ellington introduces the numbers to the Swiss audiences, jokes a bit, and leads his charges in a most dignified manner. The performances are tight and inspired, respectful of the big-band tradition but unafraid to dip a few toes into the progressive waters looming ahead as the '50s kicked in. Solos are never less than praiseworthy and often quite hot. The song list yields no real surprises — standards of the Ellington repertoire and/or of the era in general such as "Take the 'A' Train," "Creole Love Call," "S'Wonderful," and "How High the Moon" are among the numbers performed — and overall the album does what it needs to: gives an accurate reflection of where this pioneer stood at this point in his long, legendary career.