The Centennial Anthology
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On April 29, 2005, Duke Ellington would have turned 106. But the influential bandleader/pianist died long before 2005; he passed away in 1974, leaving behind a wealth of recordings that continue to fascinate jazz enthusiasts after all these years. Numerous Ellington reissues came out in the 2000s; the thing that separates this two-disc set from other Ellington packages that were assembled in 2005 is the visual element — disc two is a DVD that offers footage from the early '30s and early '60s. There are countless opportunities to hear Ellington's greatness but not that many chances to see it, and the DVD's highlights range from a 1933 video for "Stormy Weather" (with Ivie Anderson lip-synching) to several rare 1962 performances (all of them in color) that were commissioned by the Goodyear Tire Company and filmed "live in the studio" (is that an oxymoron?) without an actual live audience. Now for the bad news: part of the DVD is screwed up, and some of the tunes that are listed on the DVD's menu aren't actually on the DVD, including "I Got Rhythm." Oops! That frustrating goof brings The Centennial Anthology's rating down several notches. Disc one, meanwhile, is an audio CD devoted to V-disc recordings (most of them from 1941). While these V-disc performances of "Take the 'A' Train," "Chelsea Bridge," "Frenesi," and other gems weren't released commercially in the '40s, all of them find Ellington's band in excellent form — and the V-discs' sound quality, for the most part, is enjoyably good (certainly by 78-era standards). The Centennial Anthology is not recommended to casual listeners, but hardcore collectors will likely want this double-disc in spite of the things that are problematic about the DVD.