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Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band (Remastered)

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Album Review

Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band, covering the years 1939-1942 in the great composer and bandleader's career, is essentially the third time that RCA has issued this material on CD. The first was a botched job, appalling even, with its flattened-out, compressed sound, along with a chopped version of "Take the A-Train" and other sonic and editorial errors. The second version was completely remastered and corrected the editorial problems, but featured no alternate takes from the band's performances. Beyond the original 66 tracks, nine additional cuts are featured here, including four brand-new master-take issues of "Another Pitter Patter," "Body and Soul," "Sophisticated Lady," and "Mr. J.B. Blues," as well as alternate takes of "Ko-Ko," "Bojangles," "Sepia Panorama," "Jumpin' Punkins," and "Jump for Joy." All of this material is available on RCA's Complete Duke Ellington and in bits and pieces on imports, but these tracks make this set feel much more complete as a document of Ellington's greatest band. The interplay between Jimmy Blanton's bass, which stood completely out front with its fat, rounded tone — a revolutionary thing in a big band in those days — and Ben Webster's shimmering, soulful tenor on the alternate take of "Sepia Panorama," as well as the title track and Webster's signature tune, "Chelsea Bridge," are more remarkable with each listen. The sheer force of Blanton's playing moves the band to a whole different level of intensity, and the contrast between the tones of altoist Johnny Hodges and Webster is one of the most unique and complimentary in the history of jazz. If you are new to this set, it's a fine introduction, with performances of classics such as "Ko-Ko," "Harlem Air Shaft," "All Too Soon," "In a Mellotone," "Warm Valley," "Harlem Airshaft," "Take the 'A' Train," "I Got It Bad," "Five O'Clock Drag," "Perdido," "Bojangles," "The C Jam Blues," "Concerto for Cootie," "Cottontail," "Johnny Come Lately," "Sentimental Lady," and many others. The Blanton-Webster Band featured a great many soloists, including Cootie Williams, Ray Nance, Rex Stewart, and vocalist Herb Jeffries. In fact, the only shortcomings on this set are some of the vocals by other performers, but let's face it, there were few truly great jazz singers at the time, and this minor annoyance is easily overlooked. While it is easy to be cynical about the way classic recordings are repackaged and remastered as a way of getting enthusiasts to buy them again and again, this one is truly worth either an initial investment or reinvestment. It may have taken RCA three tries, but they finally got it right. The package is lovely, the notes updated, and the sound stellar. Along with the extra tracks, what more could you want?


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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