Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band (Remastered)
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Duke Ellington had been an established force in the jazz world for more than a decade when the infusion of three dynamic talents ushered in what is largely considered the band’s most rewarding creative period. First was Billy Strayhorn, a young composer and arranger who finagled a backstage meeting with Ellington in Pittsburgh in late 1938 and impressed him enough to earn an invitation to the organization. Next came bassist Jimmie Blanton, who was 21 when Duke hired him in October of 1939 and who possessed a supple, bouncy style that gave the bass a new prominence. Finally, tenor Ben Webster signed on in January of 1940; his vigorous yet emotive tone had made him one of the most sought-after saxophone voices of the swing era. With a handsome new RCA Victor contract in hand, Ellington took his rejuvenated orchestra into the studio for the first time in March of 1940, and in a little more than two years, the orchestra produced these 75 glorious cuts — pop hits, jazz classics, tone poems, high-energy jams, Latin-influenced pieces, and more. With stalwarts including Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, Juan Tizol, and Barney Bigard already on board, the band delivered a host of riches: “Cotton Tail,” “Never No Lament,” “In a Mellotone,” “Warm Valley,” “I Got It Bad,” and “Sentimental Lady” among them. By 1941, Strayhorn's contributions were having a major impact, including the winsome “Chelsea Bridge,” lively “Raincheck,” and stylish “Take the ‘A’ Train.”
A Great Collection
This remastering allowed me to hear what all of the fuss over bassist Jimmie Blanton was about. It is a perfect set to get to hear the Duke at the height of his powers. It is great for building a knowledge of many Ellington numbers that went on to be interpretted as jazz standards.
Essential Music, Beautifully Restored
These selections are widely recognized as among the most important recordings in the history of jazz, and rightly so. Included are the definitive versions of many of Ellington's (and his associates') most inspired compositions, performed by one of the greatest bands ever assembled. The musicianship is superb throughout, with absolutely stunning solo and ensemble work on track after track, particularly on the instrumental selections that make up the bulk of the set.
To my ears, the sound quality is astonishingly good. I've been listening to this material on various other compilations (Bluebird's "Blanton-Webster Band," the relevant volumes in the Melodie Jazz Classic label's "Chronological Classics" series, an RCA "Jazz Tribune" set, etc.) for years, and I'm amazed at how much better this issue sounds than any of those. It's true that there's a bit of surface noise, but as one other reviewer has already noted, the problem with noise reduction is that when it's used to excess (as on the Bluebird set, for example), it strips away a lot of the music along with the noise. Here, where the remastering has been done much more judiciously, the improved clarity, detail, presence, and tonal range more than compensate for the slight increase in extraneous background noise. The result is, to my ears, a stunning improvement in overall sound quality -- though to get the full benefit, you'll of course have to spring for the CD version.
This is an extremely well-produced reissue that belongs in the collection of anyone with an interest in Ellington, or in big-band jazz in general.
A Tribute To The Father of Jazz
I'm a youngin' and I recognize good music. I was in 4th or 5th grade when I learned about Duke Ellington. Then, I couldn't appreciate music without words, now I love it. This 3 cd collection is an excellent addition to any iPod! Great for housecleaning and studying too!
Born: April 29, 1899 in Washington D.C.
Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s
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