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Duke Ellington - Original Recordings, Vol. 13 (1946-1947)

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Album Review

This mid-priced triple-CD box (originally five separate LPs) contains 64 tracks recorded by Ellington and his band for radio broadcast between March 28, 1946 and June 10, 1947. This was a period in which the Ellington band was, if anything, underrecorded; he'd ended his longtime stay on RCA-Victor and was moving to Musicraft and then on to Columbia, and the move between labels left Ellington less well represented in the studio than he might otherwise have been with a long-term contract. Included here are eight pieces never before available as full-band recordings, among them "Tip Toe Topic," and a trio recording by Ellington, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Sonny Greer that was never done again. There have been reissues of this material from various sources, drawn from radio transcription discs (which are considered fair game for pirates overseas), but this is the only legitimate version, drawn from pristine privately collected discs, with payments to the musicians involved and their estates. From the opening rendition of "Take the 'A' Train" with a trumpet solo by Taft Jordan, the set is full of surprises, new takes on old numbers, and a handful of numbers new and unique to the box. We get the longest uninterrupted rendition of "Happy-Go-Lucky Local," and the earlier of two contemporary studio versions of Ellington's concerto for Johnny Hodges' sax, "Magenta Haze," plus a last glimpse of some of the best work of Sam Nanton on the version of "The Mooche" featured here; Harry Carney, Jimmy Hamilton, and Claude Jones share the spotlight in "Fugue-a-Ditty," and "Transblucency" get its studio debut only a few weeks after its premiere at Carnegie Hall. The most marvelous side of the performances here, which combine the freedom of radio broadcast lengths (up to nearly seven minutes, although most of what's here is in the three-four-minute range) two years prior to the introduction of the LP with the best that technology had to offer, is the range of the music; Ellington's music in this era bridges the gap between big-band swing ("Crosstown") and the more intimate and expressive small-group sounds with startling ease, truly beyond category in its range as depicted here. "Passion Flower," "Everything Goes," "Jennie," "The Eighth Veil," "Moon Mist" — the range of delights contained here, from big-band dance numbers to some of Ellington's most beautiful small-scale impressionist pieces, to some experimental trio pieces, is stunning. There are also a relative handful of vocal numbers, handled by Al Hibbler, Ray Nance, and Kay Davis. None of it ever got much better than this. Oh, and the sound is killer, state of the art, and more than a match for any '40s release one cares to name. The band includes Johnny Hodges, Al Sears, Harry Carney, Shelton Hemphill, Taft Jordan, Cat Anderson, Oscar Pettiford, Sonny Greer, and, on "Passion Flower," Billy Strayhorn sitting in on piano.


Born: 29 April 1899 in Washington D.C.

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Duke Ellington was the most important composer in the history of jazz as well as being a bandleader who held his large group together continuously for almost 50 years. The two aspects of his career were related; Ellington used his band as a musical laboratory for his new compositions and shaped his writing specifically to showcase the talents of his bandmembers, many of whom remained with him for long periods. Ellington also wrote film scores and stage musicals, and several of his instrumental works...
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