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



Air Conditioned Jungle

Naxos 8.120810



1. Midriff
2. I Didn’t Know About You
3. I’m Beginning to See the Light
4. Mood to be Wooed
5. Blue Cellophane
6. Hit Me with a Hot Note and Watch Me Bounce
7. Subtle Slough
8. Frantic Fantasy
9. The Air Conditioned Jungle
10. Tonight I Shall Sleep (With a Smile on My Face)
11. The Minor Goes Muggin’
12. I Ain’t Got Nothin’ but the Blues
13. Downbeat Shuffle
14. (Otto, Make That) Riff Staccato
15. The Kissing Bug
16. Passion Flower
17. Everything but You
18. Hollywood Hangover
Duke Ellington – Piano
Cat Anderson, Shelton Hemphill, Taft Jordan – Trumpets
Rex Stewart – Cornet
Ray Nance – Trumpet, violin and vocals
Tricky Sam Nanton, Claude Jones, Lawrence Brown - Trombones
Jimmy Hamilton – Clarinet, tenor sax
Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwick – Alto saxes
Al Sears – Tenor sax
Harry Carney – Baritone sax, clarinet, alto sax
Fred Guy – Guitar
Junior Raglin – Bass
Sonny Greer – Drums
Joya Sherrill, Al Hibbler, Kay Davis – Vocals
Tommy Dorsey (tracks 10 and 11) – Trombone
Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra (track 11)

If you pinned me down and asked me to name the greatest jazz musician ever, my choice would have to be Duke Ellington. Not only was he a successful composer and bandleader for more than 50 years, he was also a remarkable pianist. Just because he was active for so long, the Duke tends to be taken for granted but a compilation like this album reminds us of the extent of his achievement. All these marvellous tracks were recorded in one year – 1945 – and they exhibit the work of a unique orchestra and leader at the height of their powers.

The early 1940s are often cited as Ellington’s finest period, when his orchestra was invigorated by the arrival of such important musicians as bassist Jimmy Blanton, arranger Billy Strayhorn and tenor-saxist Ben Webster. Ellington’s creativity continued into the following years, as this CD testifies. Where most swing bands followed well-trodden paths, Duke fashioned entirely original orchestrations, avoiding the clichés of big-band arranging by introducing unusual harmonies, using the various musicians as individual voices and making the most of the special talents of such brilliant players as Harry Carney, Lawrence Brown and Rex Stewart.

The opening track exemplifies the band’s easy swing, featuring a distinctive solo from Lawrence Brown’s trombone. Lawrence is also spotlighted in I Didn’t Know About You, with a poignant vocal by the young Joya Sherrill. Ellington’s ability to create jazz standards is illustrated by I’m Begiunning to See the Light, again with a seductive Joya Sherrill vocal. Johnny Hodges – one of Duke’s greatest assets – takes centre stage in Mood to be Wooed, magically swooping on the alto sax.

And so the parade of superb music continues. Subtle Slough is the tune which later became Just Squeeze Me. Frantic Fantasy is a feature for Rex Stewart’s extraordinarily eccentric cornet playing, while the CD’s title-track provides contrast with Jimmy Hamilton’s well-mannered clarinet. Tonight I Shall Sleep and The Minor Goes Muggin’ have the unexpected addition of trombonist Tommy Dorsey. The richly chromatic Passion Flower shows how much the band gained from composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn. The album closes with Hollywood Hangover, a bluesy piece that proves how the Ellington orchestra could swing, with yet another magnificent solo from Johnny Hodges.

Most of these tracks come from radio transcriptions and the quality is fine, despite a certain boxiness. Whatever the sound quality, the genius of the music is sufficient to make me recommend this album unreservedly – especially at its bargain price.

Tony Augarde


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