Saturday, December 15, 2012

Music Review: Big Bands Live: Duke Ellington Orchestra

This article was first published at Blogcritics

Joining the initial release of a 1959 concert of the Benny Goodman Orchestra in the Jazzhaus Big Bandbands Live series culled from the archives of German radio and television broadcaster S├╝dwestrundfunk is a remastered recording of a previously unreleased 1967 Stuttgart concert featuring the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Recorded only a few weeks before the death of the inestimable Ellington right hand man Billy Strayhorn, the set list for the date avoids most all of the iconic Ellington repertoire and dips into the wealth of the orchestra's material less often featured. Still, except for one tune, all the songs on the album are Ellington or Strayhorn compostions, yet for the more casual  fans there may well be more than a few of these dozen tracks they have never heard before.

And that's a shame, because as even a cursory hearing will make clear there is some truly fine music here, and the individual solo work is often as good as anything you're likely to hear on any of the more famous Ellington repertoire. Just listen to Cat Anderson's virtuoso trumpet solo on Raymond Fol's "Salome" or Cootie Williams strutting his stuff with witty perfection on "The Shepherd" and the swinging "Tutti for Cootie." It's not only the trumpets. Lawrence Brown plays some low down 'bone' on "Rue Blue." The bass of John Lamb is featured in "La Plus Belle Africaine" along with Harry Carney.  Johnny Hodges is up front with the alto sax for an elegant take on "Freakish Lights." The final piece on the album is a spot for a show ending ovation for drummer Rufus Jones on an Ellington original, "Kixx."

The album begins with a short nod to the orchestra's theme, "Take the 'A' Train." The rest of the concert includes "Johnny Come Lately" and "Swamp Goo," which features some nice clarinet work from Russell Procope. Paul Gonsalves has the honors on the Latin Anerican vibed "Knob Hill." "Eggo" and "A Chromatic Love Affair" round out the album.  Ellington, of course, handles the piano throughout, and makes sure to acknowledge the featured soloist at the end of each number.

This album is a gift for all fans of big band music--forget that: this album is a gift for all music lovers, big band or otherwise. This is a concert that shouldn't have been moldering in some broadcaster's vault. Turns out those vaults contain about 1,600 audio and 350 television recordings of more than 400 ensembles and soloists—3,000 hours most of it previously unreleased and ripe for the pickings. Jazzhaus with its Bigbands Live  and Legends Live series have barely made a dent in the stash. If what they've put out so far is any indication, there have to be gems to come, and the jazz audience as a lot to look forward to.


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