List Price: $39.98
Two central themes color this 65-track, three-CD compilation–covering Duke Ellington’s three periods recording for Columbia Records (disc 1: 1927 to 1940; disc 2: 1947 to 1952; and disc 3: 1956 to 1962). One, Ellington disliked musical pigeonholes. His open-minded attitude allowed him to create masterpieces as different as the spiritual classic “Come Sunday” with gospel star Mahalia Jackson and the Ravelian impressionism of “Lady of the Lavender Mist.” Two, Ellington wrote expressly for the members of his band, and that made him sound different from everyone else. That’s why the growling trombone of Tricky Sam Nanton, the svelte sonics of alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, and the rich baritone sax of Harry Carney are linked to classics like “Black and Tan Fantasy,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” and “Sophisticated Lady.” Ellington also used vocalists like they were horns, as evidenced by Kay Davis’s haunting wordless vocal on the evocative tone poem “On a Turquoise Cloud,” and by Al Hibbler’s ebullient tenor on “I Like the Sunrise.” Although his orchestra was his “instrument,” Ellington was also a great, yet underrated pianist. He was blessed with a muscular tone and penchant for driving rhythms that marked his debt to the ragtime and stride pianists he emulated as a young man, which rings clear on “Portrait of the Lion,” dedicated to Willie “the Lion” Smith. This set also highlights how Ellington musically traveled around the world, with his gift for grafting the essences of non-American musical forms onto a jazz context, whether it be the swinging “Dance of the Floreadors (Waltz of the Flowers)” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, his Afro-Americanization of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet on the ballad “The Star-Crossed Lovers,” or the melodious Afro-Latin mirage of “Caravan,” cowritten by Puerto Rican trombonist Juan Tizol. His soundtracks move and groove with scene-stealing distinction, including the seductive “Flirtibird” from Anatomy of a Murder, and the rarely heard “Asphalt Jungle Theme” from the ’60s television show. Of course, no Ellington compilation would be complete without composer-arranger-pianist-orchestrator Billy Strayhorn. His telepathic work with Ellington is well represented here, from the anthemic “Take the ‘A’ Train” to the evocative horn arrangement of “Snibor,” with Ray Nance’s thrilling trumpet solo, to the delicate, trio version of “Lotus Blossom.” There are some gems left out of this collection–“The Clothed Woman” and “Springtime in Africa,” to name two–but absences aside, this well-done set effectively conveys Ellingtonia, with music for all seasons and reasons. As Robert O’Meally writes in his excellent essay, “Ellington was an American composer who helped you compose yourself, to ‘get your self together’ while you listened, while you danced.” –Eugene Holley Jr.
No features available.