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



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DUKE ELLINGTON

Creole Rhapsody

Living Era CD AJS 2015

 

 


CD 1

1. Jungle Nights in Harlem
2. Jungle Blues
3. Ring Dem Bells
4. Mood Indigo (Dreamy Blues)
5. Rockin' In Rhythm
6. Creole Rhapsody
7. Echoes Of The Jungle
8. It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing
9. Lazy Rhapsody (Swannee River Rhapsody)
10. Blue Harlem
11. Swampy River
12. Blue Ramble
13. Lightnin'
14. Sophisticated Lady
15. Drop Me Off at Harlem
16. Bundle Of Blues (Dragon Blues)
17. Harlem Speaks
18. Dear Old Southland
19. Daybreak Express
20. Stompy Jones
21. Solitude
22. Saddest Tale
23. Merry-Go-Round (Harlem Rhythm)
CD 2

1. In a Sentimental Mood
2. Showboat Shuffle
3. Reminiscing in Tempo
4. Oh, Babe! Maybe Someday
5. Clarinet Lament (Barney's Concerto)
6. Echoes of Harlem (Cootie's Concerto)
7. Trumpet in Spades (Rex's Concerto)
8. Yearning For Love (Lawrence's Concerto)
9. In a Jam
10. Uptown Downbeat (Black Out)
11. Caravan
12. Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue
13. Harmony in Harlem
14. Ridin' on a Blue Note
15. The Gal from Joe's
16. I Let a Song Go Out of my Heart
17. Rose of the Rio Grande
18. Prelude to a Kiss
19. Battle of Swing (Le Jazz Hot)
20. Blue Light (Transblucency)
21. Grievin'
Collective personnel

Duke Ellington – Piano
Arthur Whetsol, Cootie Williams, Freddie Jenkins, Charlie Allen, Wallace Jones, Harold Baker – Trumpets
Louis Bacon – Trumpet, vocals
Rex Stewart – Cornet
Tricky Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Herb Fleming – Trombones
Juan Tizol – Valve trombone
Barney Bigard – Clarinet, tenor sax
Johnny Hodges – Alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet
Otto Hardwick – Alto sax, bass sax, clarinet
Harry Carney – Baritone sax, clarinet, alto sax
Pete Clark – Alto sax
Ben Webster – Tenor sax
Fred Guy – Banjo, guitar
Wellman Braud, Hayes Alvis, Billy Taylor - Bass,
Sonny Greer, Fred Avendorf - Drums
Ivie Anderson – Vocals

On this website, I am already on record as describing Duke Ellington as the greatest jazz musician ever, and this double CD gives me no cause to retract that statement. All the tracks here were recorded in the 1930s, when Ellington’s band had built up the experience of a long residency at the Cotton Club and the personnel had stabilised with such great names as Cootie Williams, Tricky Sam Nanton, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney and Sonny Greer. Indeed, the fourth track on this set – Mood Indigo (originally called "Dreamy Blues")was a big hit for Ellington (he claimed he composed it while his mother was cooking dinner!).

The track listing confirms Duke’s richness of achievement in the thirties, pouring out enduring melodies like Sophisticated Lady, Solitude and Prelude to a Kiss in remarkable profusion. The 44 tracks here represent only a sample of the marvellous recordings he made during this period, and the selection omits many worthy items like Cotton Club Stomp, Creole Love Call and Azure.

The album’s title reminds us of another of his achievements: as one of the pioneers of extended jazz compositions. When his agent, Irving Mills, suggested that Ellington should write a "rhapsody", the Duke came up with Creole Rhapsody, a piece which stretched over two sides of a 78-rpm disc, including key changes, piano interludes and an unusually structured blues chorus. The album also contains Reminiscing in Tempo, a 12-minute masterpiece written by the Duke in memory of his mother, expressing his sadness at her death as well as his happy memories of her. And there is the enterprising Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, clocking in at nearly six minutes and foreshadowing the revival of Duke’s career when it was reconstructed in a heroic marathon version at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival.

This collection traces Duke’s development from the "jungle style" which characterised some of the band’s early recordings to the increasing maturity and sophistication of tracks like Saddest Tale and Blue Light. In fact Ellington seldom stayed still, continually developing his style and hardly ever following the fashionable flow. After all, the 1930s were the "swing era" but Duke never tried to emulate the (admittedly more popular) styles of Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw.

Ellington’s individuality as a composer matched his unsurpassed ability to recruit musicians with unique voices and let them express their special qualities. This is particularly evident in the "concertos" which he wrote for four of his soloists. Clarinet Lament spotlights the supreme talent of clarinettist Barney Bigard, while Echoes of Harlem is not the only concerto that Duke wrote for Cootie Williams (Concerto for Cootie followed in 1940). Trumpet in Spades was a possibly mis-named feature for cornettist Rex Stewart but it displays his eccentric ability to set off musical firework displays, while Lawrence Brown makes his trombone sing lyrically in Yearning for Love. Lawrence is also featured on Rose of the Rio Grande, which has attractive vocals by Ivie Anderson, one of Duke’s most endearing singers.

There have been many compilations of Ellington material, some more generous – like Proper Records’ four-CD box covering 1926 to 1949. But there are enough masterly performances on these two CDs to keep any listener busy for weeks.


Tony Augarde

 



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