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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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The Great Concerts: London & New York 1963-1964

Nimbus NI 2704/5






CD1 - London
1. Take The "A" Train
2. Introduction by Duke Ellington
3. Perdido
4. Caravan
5. Isfahan
6. The Opener
7. Harlem
8. Take The "A" Train (Vocal)
9. Mood Indigo
10. C Jam Blues
11. Don't Get Around Much Anymore
12. Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue
13. A Single Petal Of A Rose

14. Kinda Dukish/Rockin' In Rhythm

Duke Ellington - Piano
Cat Anderson, Cootie Williams - Trumpets
Rolf Ericson, Herbie Jones - Trumpets (tracks 1-8, 14)
Roy Burrowes - Trumpet (tracks 9-13)
Ray Nance - Cornet, violin (tracks 9-13)
Lawrence Brown, Buster Cooper, Chuck Connors - Trombones
Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney - Saxes
Ernie Shepard - Bass
Sam Woodyard - Drums
Ernie Shepard - Vocals (track 8)
Milt Grayson - Vocals (track 11)

CD2 - New York

1. Take The "A" Train
2. Satin Doll
3. Caravan
4. Skillipoop
5. Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall
6. Blues Medley: Happy-Go-Lucky Local, John Sanders' Blues, C Jam Blues
7. Carolina Shout
8. Tonk
9. Things Ainīt What They Used to Be
10. Melancholia/Reflections in D
11. Little African Flower
12. Bird of Paradise
13. A Single Petal of a Rose
Duke Ellington - Piano
Peck Morrison - Bass (tracks 1-9)
Sam Woodyard - Drums (tracks 1-9)
Willie "The Lion" Smith - Piano (track 7)
Billy Strayhorn - Piano (tracks 8, 9)


I saw Duke Ellington's orchestra in London in the 1960s and felt my heart leap up when the curtains rose on a band that included a front line of five superb reedmen: Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves and Harry Carney. Each one had his own unique style and they typified how Duke Ellington chose his musicians for their individuality rather than putting a band together from a homogeneous crowd of musicians.

The Ellingtonian strengths are well in evidence on this double album - in two different ways. The first CD catches the full Ellington band in action in London in 1963 and 1964. The second CD has the Duke leading a trio in New York in May 1964, with two very significant guests making brief appearances.

The first CD contains many oft-recorded Ducal numbers but they all sound fresh because of Ellington's ability to vary the arrangements and let the soloing musicians do their own thing. From its very start it is uplifting, with that familiar signature tune - Take the "A" Train - introduced by the BBC's Steve Race. Perdido is taken at an exhilarating fast tempo, with solos from Jimmy Hamilton's crystal-clear clarinet, Rolf Ericson's beboppish trumpet and Paul Gonsalves' slippery tenor sax. Caravan features trumpeter Cootie Williams, who had recently returned to Duke's orchestra after more than 20 years' absence. Cootie's muted trumpet naughtily transgresses bar-lines before Duke's mischievous piano plays tricks with Sam Woodyard's drumming.

Johnny Hodges is as radiantly lyrical as ever in Isfahan (its first recorded performance). The Opener is a hectic, noisy crowd-rouser which features Gonsalves, Buster Cooper and the unlovely Cat Anderson's trumpet screech. This is followed by one of the album's highlights: a 15-minute version of Harlem, one of Ellington's best extended works. Take the "A" Train is longer than track 1 and has a jocular vocal from bassist Ernie Shepard. Johnny Hodges gets to solo on Mood Indigo, and C Jam Blues gives several band members an opportunity to solo. Don't Get Around Much Anymore is another vocal number - this time with mellow singer Milt Grayson.

Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue naturally focuses on tenorist Paul Gonsalves playing multiple blues choruses. Things quieten down for A Single Petal of a Rose, featuring the Duke at the piano paying a tender tribute to the British queen. The concert ends with Rockin' in Rhythm, preceded (as tradition demanded) by Ellington's piano solo on Kinda Dukish. Thus ends a superb concert, with the Duke clearly relishing the enthusiastic response of the London audience.

As already suggested, the second CD is a different kettle of jazz, but still very palatable. Ellington leads a conventional piano trio and it is refreshing to hear his piano in the foreground, although Sam Woodyard's drums are featured at length in Skillipoop. Duke displays his individualistic piano stgyle, which has his own quiddities as well as being influenced by the stride piano tradition. This tradition is exemplified by Willie "The Lion" Smith making a surprise appearance to play James P. Johnson's Carolina Shout. The Lion stumbles over several notes but his stride spirit lives on.

Other highlights of the New York concert include a blues medley plus Billy Strayhorn guesting on a couple of tracks. After this, Ellington is heard at the piano alone, including a pensive Melancholia, Little African Flower (also known as Fleurette Africaine) and another performance of A Single Petal of a Rose.

This double album is valuable not only because it is by Duke Ellington (dare I say that all his albums are valuable?) but also because it shows two sides of the man: the bandleader and the pianist. He was brilliant and ground-breaking in both roles.

Tony Augarde







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