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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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Duke Ellington.

Duke Ellington in the Twenties: The Duke Steps Out

LIVING ERA CD AJA 5573

 

 



1. East St. Louis Toodle-oo
2. Choo Choo (Gotta Hurry Home)
3. Birmingham Breakdown
4. Creole Love Call (with Adelaide Hall)
5. The Blues I Love to Sing
6. Black and Tan Fantasy
7. Washington Wobble
8. Take it Easy
9. Black Beauty
10. Jubilee Stomp
11. The Mooche (with Baby Cox)
12. Hot and Bothered
13. Awful Sad
14. The Blues With a Feelin’
15. Misty Mornin’
16. Tiger Rag
17. Doin’ the Voom Voom
18. Rent Party Blues
19. The Dicty Glide
20. Hot Feet
21. Stevedore Stomp
22. Cotton Club Stomp
23. Saratoga Swing
24. The Duke Steps out

Tracks 1 and 3: Duke Ellington and His Kentucky Club Orchestra: Duke Ellington (piano); Bubber Miley, Louis Metcalf (trumpet); Tricky Sam Nanton (trombone); Prince Robinson (clarinet); Otto Hardwick (C-melody sax, alto sax, soprano sax, baritone sax); Edgar Sampson (alto sax); Fred Guy (banjo); Mack Shaw (tuba); Sonny Greer (drums)
Track 2: Duke Ellington and His Washingtonians: Duke Ellington (piano); Bubber Miley (trumpet); Charlie Irvis (trombone); Otto Hardwick (C-melody sax); George Francis (banjo); Sonny Greer (drums)
Track 4-10: Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Duke Ellington (piano); Bubber Miley, Louis Metcalf, Arthur Whetsol (trumpet); Tricky Sam Nanton (trombone); Rudy Jackson (clarinet - tracks 4-7) Barney Bigard (clarinet - tracks 8-10); Otto Hardwick (alto sax); Harry Carney (baritone sax, alto sax, clarinet); Fred Guy (banjo); Wellman Braud (double bass); Sonny Greer (drums); Adelaide Hall (vocals - tracks 4-5)
Tracks 11-12: Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Duke Ellington (piano); Bubber Miley, Arthur Whetsol (trumpet); Tricky Sam Nanton (trombone); Barney Bigard (clarinet); Johnny Hodges (alto sax); Harry Carney (baritone sax, alto sax, clarinet); Lonnie Johnson (guitar); Fred Guy (banjo); Well man Braud (double bass); Sonny Greer (drums); Baby Cox (vocals)
Tracks 13-22: Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra: Duke Ellington (piano); Arthur Whetsol(trumpet); Bubber Miley (trumpet - tracks 13-17); Freddie Jenkins (trumpet - tracks 14-22); Cootie Williams (trumpet - tracks 18-22); Trickey Sam Nanton (trombone); Barney Bigard (clarinet, tenor sax); Johnny Hodges (alto sax, soprano sax); Harry Carney (baritone sax, clarinet, alto sax); Fred Guy (banjo); Lonnie Johnson (guitar - tracks 15-22); Wellman Braud; Sonny Greer (drums)
Track 23: Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra: Duke Ellington (piano); Cootie Williams (trumpet); Barney Bigard (clarinet); Johnny Hodges (alto sax); Fred Guy (banjo); Wellman Braud (double bass); Sonny Greer (drums)
Track 24: Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra: Duke Ellington (piano); Cootie Williams, Arthur Whetsol (trumpet); Tricky Sam Nanton, Juan Tizol (valve trombone); Barney Bigard (clarinet); Johnny Hodges (alto sax); Harry Carney (baritone sax); Fred Guy (banjo); Teddy Bunn (guitar); Wellman Braud (double bass); Sonny Greer (drums)


It’s hard to think of a single musician whose work has been so influential: classical composers admire his structures; pianists still try to emulate his style; even his showy performance techniques have been copied time and time again... The Duke, however, was one of a kind. During his fifty year career, he recorded with many of the greats of jazz, creating a wealth of legendary music. The Duke Steps Out goes back to where it started - in the seedy haze of the Kentucky Club in 1924 - and traces his work through various bands throughout the next five years, leading at last to the six-piece brass team with whom he would shake the jazz world.

With fifty years worth of developing talent available to buy on disc, one might be forgiven for asking: why choose a collection from so early a period, when Ellington was still a comparative amateur? And as far as his skills as a pianist are concerned, this is indeed a valid point. Lacking the flair of his later work, Ellington’s solos are relatively bland, and rhythmically unimpressive - a fact cruelly emphasised by the tendency of his accompaniment to dampen down, or cease altogether, in order to bring them to the forefront. Even as part of the rhythm section, his efforts are rarely notable, quietly plodding through the necessary chords as the banjo or bass thumps the melody forward.

But it isn’t for Ellington’s virtuosity that the collection is so appealing - but rather for his masterful talents as composer and, indeed, for his role as band leader. Perfectly structured, richly textured and always brilliantly orchestrated, it little wonder that many of these tunes have been compared to classical works. As the British composer, conductor and writer, Constant Lambert, put it: "There is nothing in Ravel as dextrous as the varied solos in the middle of the ebullient ‘Hot and Bothered’ and nothing in Stravinsky more dynamic than the final section’. And, indeed, there is little in any musical genre to compare with the blistering ‘Tiger Rag’. Filled with weird and absorbing textures, sliding and zapping in to every possibility, this is truly groundbreaking stuff, captured by a group of gifted musicians.

Indeed, it is ultimately the accompanying musicians that give this collection its wonderful character. From Bubber Miley’s wa-wa trumpet to Adelaide Hill’s wordless vocals, eccentricity, charisma and joy seep every warbling note. There is a certain freedom about this music that is rarely found in recordings of the era. There is also, however, a sense of unity that never get lost in self-expression. In his linear notes, Vic Belerby addresses this apparent paradox: "The great soloists were exhorted to ‘get off’ and improvise... They always did, yet in a way peculiar to Ellington. Such was the secret of his genius."

Robert Gibson



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