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


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DUKE ELLINGTON
The Great Concerts: Cornell University 1948
Nimbus NI 2727/28

 

 

 




CD1 Ė First Set
1. Star Spangled Banner
2. Lady of the Lavender Mist
3. Suddenly It Jumped
4. Reminiscing in Tempo
5. She Wouldnít Be Moved
6. Paradise
7. The Symphomaniac Pt 1 (Symphonic or Bust)
8. The Symphomaniac Pt 2 (How You Sound)
9. My Friend
10. You Oughta
11. Creole Love Call
12. Donít Blame Me
13. Lover Man
14. The Tattooed Bride
15. Dancers in Love

CD2 Ė Second Set
1. Manhattan Murals
2. Hyía Sue
3. Fantazm
4. Tootiní Through the Roof
5. Brown Betty
6. Humoresque
7. How High the Moon
8. Donít Be so Mean to Baby
9. Lover Come Back to Me
10. Itís Monday Everyday
11. Medley Ė Donít Get Around Much, Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me, In a Sentimental Mood, Mood Indigo, Iím Beginning to See the Light, Sophisticated Lady, Caravan, It Donít Mean a Thing, I Let a Song Go out of My Heart.
12. Limehouse Blues


Duke Ellington Ė Piano
Shelton Hemphill, Francis Williams, Harold Baker, Al Killian - Trumpets
Ray Nance - Trumpet, violin
Lawrence Brown, Quentin Jackson - Trombones
Tyree Glenn - Trombone, vibes
Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton, Al Sears, Ben Webster, Harry Carney - Reeds
Fred Guy - Guitar
Wendell Marshall - Bass
Sonny Greer - Drums
Kay Davis, Al Hibbler - Vocals

 

This recording was made at a concert at Cornell University at a time when big bands were having a hard time and vocalists were taking centre stage. The young Cornell audience, however, was very enthusiastic about the bandís performance and this in turn inspired the band. This was the Ellington Band at its best: the saxophone section alone boasted more poll winners than any other band of the time. Johnny Hodgesí lead alto work is outstanding throughout, his tone and style were very personal and recognisable and, at the other end of the stave, Harry Carney amply demonstrates the art of playing the baritone as only he could: superb tone, massive technique and very creative improvisation.

Listening to him playing Strayhornís Paradise was a real pleasure. In the tenor saxophone department, Ben Webster, Jimmy Hamilton and Al Sears are hard to better and Russell Procope, although never featured much by the Duke on alto and clarinet, was also an accomplished musician.

The other sections were just as strong as the personnel list above shows; the trumpets could certainly hit the high notes and the trombone players had very individual sounds. The rhythm section kicks on nicely and the Duke demonstrates his jazz credentials throughout.

In his commentary the Duke mentions Paul Whiteman with respect to the Symphomaniac tracks. The Duke also liked to allude to classical music in a lot of his work. In Part 2 there is a very fine clarinet solo from Jimmy Hamilton.

My Friend features Al Sears on tenor and it is ironical that on this concert he sat next to Ben Webster, whose place he had taken on Benís leaving and who returned to the band replacing him after this concert.

You Oughta features Al Killian, a more than capable high-note man who had filled that role when Cat Anderson left. He really could reach the stratosphere and still have a broad sound.

It is always a great pleasure to hear Creole Love Call, one of Ellingtonís greatest compositions. The theme statement is by three clarinets, played by Hamilton, Procope and Carney. The trumpet solo is by Ray Nance, the female wordless vocal is by Kay Davis, before the clarinets return to the theme, a most impressive performance by all concerned. Kay Davis returns to sing two more numbers: Donít Blame Me and Lover Man; both are well received by the audience.

Ellington in different appearances gave various explanations of what his The Tattooed Bride composition was about and I must confess to not really understanding any of them! The music however is very interesting and it was to be a composition that remained in the Ellington library for a long period. It is the longest track on CD1, being over 13 minutes in length. The ensemble playing is tight and well rehearsed and the arrangement imaginative. There is some fine playing from all, but especially Carney, the Duke, Shorty Baker and also the superb clarinet playing of Jimmy Hamilton. There are several mood and tempo changes, all of which the band handles with great accomplishment and without ever forgetting to swing!

The last number, Dancers in Love, was often used by Ellington to close a set. By this time he usually had the audience very much Ďon sideí and this occasion was no exception, Ellingtonís stride piano stopping the show.

CD2 kicks of with Manhattan Murals, which features the Duke on piano at the start and is based on Strayhornís Take the "A" Train.

Hyía Sue is a rocking blues, this time featuring Jimmy Hamilton on tenor, together with Tyree Glenn playing trombone in the manner of Tricky Sam Nanton. What is particularly noticeable is that Hamiltonís approach to jazz on tenor is completely different from his clarinet work. It also seems surprising that with Webster sat in the section, he was not chosen for this particular piece of work. That is not to deride Hamilton who does an excellent job.

Fantazm has a mysterious air about it and it features Carney, this time on bass clarinet, and Lawrence Brown on trombone. Tootiní Through the Roof is a complete contrast, being an exciting and brassy tear-up. Johnny Hodges brings things back to normal with a magnificent solo on Brown Betty. Hodges was probably the finest ever ballad soloist on alto and his performance here is worth the price of the album on its own!

Dvorakís Humoresque has always fascinated jazz musicians and this time itís introduced by Ray Nance on violin, before the band tear into it.

It seemed strange that nothing in the way of a solo had been heard from Ben Webster up to this point. He is given his head in How High the Moon and as always exudes real class. He has always been my favourite tenor player; his tone, improvisation ability and the emotion he exhibits in his playing are second to none. He had all the technique in the world but, unlike many, never played a hundred notes when a few well-placed ones would do.

The next three tracks feature long-time Ellington vocalist Al Hibbler, who has an immediate impact on the audience. He had an unusually dramatic style for a band singer, but always seemed to go down well with every audience.

The next-to-last piece was a medley of the Duke's greatest hits; this I believe had two purposes: one was to deal with the many requests he received and the other was that the crowd always applauded each tune they recognised!

The last piece has something new: Tyree Glenn on vibraphone. Together with Ellington he swings along neatly on Limehouse Blues, until the powerhouse trumpet section jumps into action for one last time to round things off.

This record is a piece of jazz history that should be in everybodyís collection.

Don Mather

See also the review by Pierre Giroux



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