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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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DUKE ELLINGTON

From His Treasure Chest
1965-1972

Nimbus NI 2736

 

 


1 The Old Circus Train
2. Swamp Goo
3. Trombone Buster
4. Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies
5. Mellow Ditty
6. To Know You is to Love You
7. Naidni Remmus
8. The Prowling Cat
9. Maiera
10. Thanks for the Beautiful Land
11. Charpoy
12. Portrait of Louis Armstrong
13. Girdle Hurdle
14. Sans Snyphelle
15. Woods

Collective personnel
Duke Ellington, Jimmy Jones - Piano
Cat Anderson, Cootie Williams, Ray Nance, Herbie Jones, Mercer Ellington, Nat Adderley, Allen Smith, Fred Stone, Nelson Williams, Money Johnson, Al Rubin, Richard Williams, Eddie Preston - Trumpets
Lawrence Brown, Buster Cooper, Chuck Connors, Booty Wood, Malcolm Taylor - Trombones
Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, Harry Carney, Norris Turney, Harold Ashby, Buddy Pearson, Harold Minerve - Reeds
John Lamb, Joe Benjamin - Bass
Sam Woodyard, Louie Bellson, Chris Columbus, Rufus Jones - Drums
Wild Bill Davis - Organ
Tony Watkins - Vocals

 

My extensive collection of Duke Ellington albums includes a set of ten CDs entitled The Private Collection. These come from what the Duke called his "stockpile", assembled from recordings he made with his band in-between concerts or when they were otherwise unemployed. Ellington himself paid for these recordings to be made - not necessarily to be issued to the public but so that he could at least hear what his (and Billy Strayhorn's) compositions and arrangements sounded like.

This new CD contains 15 such recordings made between 1965 and 1972. They are said to be "previously unissued" but they were actually first released in 1991 by the MusicMasters label. Nevertheless, Duke's "stockpile" is a treasure chest that is well worth opening and exploring. The band sounds relaxed, as they have no audience to please and are playing primarily for their own - and Elington's - pleasure. Many of the recordings date from the last years of Ellington's life (he died in 1974) but they show little sign of diminishing powers. In these years, the Duke was not only involved with his Sacred Concerts but he also produced such masterpieces as And His Mother Called Him Bill, The Far East Suite and The New Orleans Suite. Indeed, Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies is the opening number from the suite picturing New Orleans. Norris Turney is featured here on flute, an instrument which Ellington regarded as inferior to the clarinet - although this preference is understandable, as his band included such prodigious clarinettists as Barney Bigard and Jimmy Hamilton. The latter's brilliance is displayed at high speed on Girdle Hurdle.

Jimmy Hamilton actually plays a tenor-sax solo on the CD's opening track - The Old Circus Train, the latest in a number of Ducal tunes portraying locomotives. It chugs along smoothly, with Hamilton sounding like Ben Webster but also rather like a tenor version of Johnny Hodges.

Swamp Goo is a mysterious jungle-style piece fronted by three clarinets, with Russell Procope adding his name to the list of great Ellingtonian clarinet soloists. Cat Anderson wrote Trombone Buster for trombonist Buster Cooper, who makes the most of its flag-waving potential. Mellow Ditty spotlights the bandleader's piano and Cootie Williams' trumpet.

Ellington is the sole accompanist for singer Tony Watkins in To Know You is to Love You - and it must be said that Duke's accompaniment is much more enticing than Watkins' fairly ordinary vocals. Organist Wild Bill Davis joins the band for Naidni Remmus (reverse each word for the origin of the melody) and several other numbers. Adding Davis's thick sound on Hammond organ to a big band was a daring move, but it works surprisingly well. Paul Gonsalves solos soulfully here. Davis composed this tune and Sans Snyphelle, which shuffles along with solos from Harold Ashby (almost as breathy as Ben Webster) and a muted but outspoken Cootie Williams. Wild Bill Davis is also present on Charpoy, written by Billy Strayhorn and expressing the laid-back atmosphere of India. This recording was made in 1970 - three years after Strayhorn's death.

The Prowling Cat was clearly written to feature trumpeter Cat Anderson, whose high notes may have impressed audiences but leave me dissatisfied that they so often fail to reach their obvious target. Flugelhorn player Fred Stone shows a similar approximation to notes in Maiera. Thanks for the Beautiful Land and Portrait of Louis Armstrong are two more pieces from The New Orleans Suite, with Norris Turney's swirling tenor sax prominent in the former and Cootie Williams almost overwhelmed by the disappointingly poor recording of the latter.

The final track, Woods, slims down the band to the rhythm section plus trumpeter Money Johnson and a six-piece reed section, although they manage to sound as full as a big band. Johnson's plunger-muted trumpet takes us back to the early Ellington era and Bubber Miley's similar style.

With the reservations mentioned, this is a cherishable set of lesser-known recordings which add to the already overwhelming evidence of the Duke's brilliance.

Tony Augarde



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