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Best of the Duke Ellington Centennial Edition (1999 Remastered)

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Album Review

This compilation of some of Ellington's most popular, enduring, and important RCA Victor sides from a period of 40 years (October 26, 1927, to August 30, 1967) consists of 18 tracks, drawn from the remastered tracks on BMG's 24-CD Ellington Centennial box. That's hardly enough to address the range of changes in Ellington's style, but it does give the casual listener a glimpse of that range — "Mood Indigo" sounds light years beyond "Black and Tan Fantasy" or "East St. Louis Toodle-o," and it's only four tracks in, while the development of Ellington's musical language only got more sophisticated. So, this is a rushed history lesson, a handy "Monarch notes"-type look at the man's work. The producers have very shrewdly included the "Mood Indigo-Hot and Bothered-Creole Love Call" experimental long-play (for 1932) medley, clocking in at more than seven minutes, and presented here in stereo, one of the unique elements of the box, to wet the appetite of the budgetary-challenged. Otherwise, all of the expected bases are touched ("Take the 'A' Train," etc.), up through the soaring, lyrical "Come Sunday" from the First Concert of Sacred Music and the upbeat, energetic "Raincheck," from Ellington's 1967 memorial to Billy Stayhorn. As with the box, the sound is largely impeccable, with stunning delineating of the soloists' work and a rich, full texture to the ensemble sections. There's a little sloppiness in the annotation, which could've been cleaner, but this is a otherwise a handy mid-priced compilation and a worthy teaser for a monumental career survey.


Born: April 29, 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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