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Blues In Orbit

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Editors’ Notes

Perhaps the most sonically alive and dynamic recording in the Ellington catalog, Blues in Orbit revisits a few chestnuts from the old repertoire and adds several appealing new compositions. The two tracks recorded in 1958 are both standouts: the title track features a call and response between the band and Ellington on piano, while “Track 360” is a tense, dramatic audio reproduction of a train collision. The remainder of the tracks were recorded in December of 1959 and feature Ray Nance as the band’s only trumpeter. His growl is used to good effect on “Sweet & Pungent,” a moody, unhurried blues, while the distinctive “Blues in Blueprint” is a quiet and reflective interlude that finds Nance at his most delicate. On the old standby, “C Jam Blues,” Nance picks up the violin for an impressive solo turn. Alto Johnny Hodges takes center stage for tender readings of “Sentimental Lady” and “Brown Penny.”

Customer Reviews

Super Cool

This is one of my top 3 Ellington albums. I've got it on vinyl and cd. It's absolute magic. I just wanted to write a quick review to get the rating up to where it belongs. Anyone who thinks this is a three star album just doesn't know jazz. If you're new to jazz this is a great album for a Friday night martini or a Sunday morning cup of coffee. Good Stuff!

Straightforward, Hard-Swinging Jazz

There's nothing particularly adventurous about this album, which finds Ellington and a somewhat stripped-down version of his orchestra playing straightforward arrangements of what is for the most part rather simple material -- including tunes that were already established classics of the jazz canon ("In a Mellotone," "C-Jam Blues"), as well as lesser-known and more recent compositions. However, the musicians are all in excellent form, playing with great precision in the ensemble passages while nonetheless swinging very hard on the uptempo numbers and managing to invest each piece with a feeling of relaxed spontaneity -- a quality that is often less conspicuous in Ellington's more ambitious works from this period. The individual soloists, particularly the great Johnny Hodges, also turn in some riveting improvisations, and the emphasis on blues and pieces that are informed by a blues sensibility imparts a nice sense of stylistic unity. The result is an album that, while perhaps not quite on par with Ellington's greatest recordings from the early 1940's, and certainly not as formally complex as some of his later works, is extremely rewarding on its own terms.

Changing my previous review...

I guess I initially gave the album a low review because there's a couple of rerecorded hits. For example, Pie Eye's Blues is orginally from the soundtrack for "Anatomy of a Murder" and, obviously, C Jam Blues is a standard that has been recorded dozens of times by Duke and his men alone. C Jam also crops up in the strangest of places, including the movie "Overboard"! So I guess that's why I gave it a low review before. Judging by the comments I have recieived about this review, I'm changing my rating to 4 stars, because the performances are rock solid, and some of the new stuff, especially Blues in Blueprint, is fantastic. Blues in Blueprint actually was arranged for jazz band and orchestra by Winton Marsalis, and it's this original version that led me to buy this album. The rest of the album is solid too and worth a listen. Smada was an instant favorite. I don't feel that this album is as essential as "Live at Newport" or "Such Sweet Thunder" or "Anatomy of a Murder"... But I don't want to give off the impression that this album is terrible. Because it's not. It's a very good examination of the blues as only Duke Ellington and his men can give - swingin' fun.


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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