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Reminiscing In Tempo

Duke Ellington

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Album Review

Just the fact that Ellington's extended masterpiece "Reminiscing in Tempo" is included here in its original and continuous form is reason enough to pick up this compilation. Initially recorded in 1935, "Reminiscing" was the first thoroughly composed jazz piece and one that not only demonstrated Ellington's knack for longer forms, but also featured practically all of his singular soloists. Upon its first release, the 13-minute piece was broken up over a few 78s, later making its way into EP form. Currently, the Classics label includes it on one of its Chronological discs, but spread over four distinct tracks. So, this 1991 Columbia release might be the only way to get this great work in its seamless form as it was originally recorded. Collector's concerns aside, this CD was the audio companion to an Ellington documentary aired on PBS. Predictably, it provides something of an overview of Ellington's career, beginning with a recording of "The Mooche" from his Cotton Club days in the late '20s up through a version of "Black Beauty" from 1960. Featured extensively are tracks from the '30s, including classics like "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and "Sophisticated Lady." Original gems from the watershed '40s years are here too, including "Mood Indigo" and the somewhat obscure but beautiful "On a Turquoise Cloud" from 1947. Unfortunately, since this is Columbia and not RCA, the versions of "Cotton Tail," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" (originally entitled "Never No Lament"), and "Take The 'A' Train" are not the well-known Blanton-Webster studio recordings from 1940, but inferior versions from various soundtracks recorded in Hollywood the same year. Bringing up collector's concerns again, though, these "alternate" tracks might be a plus and certainly figure in here with the Okeh versions of the '20s material (as opposed to the more popular Bluebeard/Victor releases) and an alternate take of Mahalia Jackson's incredible vocal performance of "Come Sunday," as performed with the Ellington band in 1956. So, on one hand this disc offers a fine introduction to Ellington's catalog since, in its breadth, it gives the listener a chance to decide which period appeals the most and, as such, an entry point to the bandleader's vast body of work. For those who want to dig right into the essential core, though, it's best to pick up the early-'20s material on various Bluebird reissues, as well as RCA's three-disc Blanton-Webster Band set of recordings from 1940.

Biography

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...
Full Bio

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