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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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The Great Concerts:
Cornell University 1948

Nimbus NI 2727/28

[75:04 + 57:00]



CD 1
1. Star Spangled Banner
2. Lady of the Lavender Mist
3. Suddenly It Jumped
4. Reminiscing in Tempo
5. She Wouldn't Be Moved
6. Paradise
7. The Symphomaniac Pt. 1
8. The Symphomaniac Pt. 2
9. My Friend
10. You Oughta
11. Creole Love Call
12. Don't Blame Me
13. Lover Man
14. The Tattooed Bride
15. Dancers In Love

CD 2
1. Manhattan Murals
2. Hy'a Sue
3. Fantazm
4. Tootin' Through The Roof
5. Brown Betty
6. Humoresque
7. How High The Moon
8. Don't Be So Mean To Baby
9. Lover Come Back To Me
10. It's Monday Everyday
11. Medley: Don t Get Around Much Anymore; Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me; In A Sentimental Mood; Mood Indigo; I m Beginning To See The Light; Sophisticated Lady; Caravan; It Don t Mean A Thing; I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
12. Limehouse Blues

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra
rec. 10 December 1948 at Cornell University


Cornell welcomed the Duke and his Orchestra with open arms. Its reward was a concert of the familiar virtues served up by the poet-painters in the band’s ranks, and now for us.

There can be few sounds more thrilling than the typically upbeat Star Spangled Banner with which the Duke customarily opened his concerts at around this time. Once into the First Set we are introduced to the lauded ranks. Ellington himself has an extended outing early on in Suddenly It Jumped with the shouting brass boldly led by Shorty Baker. The fascinatingly voiced Reminiscing in Tempo was always a speciality number, its pervasive melancholia ultimately unquenched even by the more swinging second part. The melancholy in Ellington is a subject all in itself and one that has been studiedly under-explored. Paradise is a Billy Strayhorn vehicle for the rhapsodic entreaties of the unique Harry Carney, which prefaces the pervasively satiric elements of The Symphomaniac (Parts 1 and 2). This bipartite affair is a kind of historical overview of ‘Then and Now’ and allows Duke the chance to throw in pastiche Ferde Grofé-type arrangements (Then) and contrast them with the sound of things now.

Al Sears tended to be overlooked in the tenor chair. One could certainly imagine the same misfortune at Cornell because beside him sat none other than Ben Webster, but Duke cannily gives Sears the chance to unfold his gospel tinged wares on My Friend. And whilst we consider inimitable voices, those allergic to the high note spectaculars of Cat Anderson might like to note that his predecessor here, Al Killian, explores considerably less stratospheric heights in his outings, notably You Oughta. Kay Davis reprises Adelaide Hall in Creole Love Call whilst Ray Nance keeps her company. Fortunately Ellington is well featured as her accompanist on Lover Man – Davis is far more oratorical than Billie Holiday. Admirers of Jimmy Hamilton will note his lower register clarinet work on The Tattooed Bride.

The Second Set continues the good work. Manhattan Murals is a Take the ‘A’ Train soundalike. Hy'a Sue meanwhile is an uncomplicated Blues with Tyree Glenn’s trombone to the fore, then Hamilton on tenor this time. We have to wait until Brown Betty for Johnny Hodges to be unveiled in all his rhapsodic majesty whilst Nance’s violin leads the dance, rather appropriately, on Humoresque, by that well known hepcat Antonín Dvorák. And then – finally – soon after Hodges we get the other great saxophonist, Webster, in his feature How High The Moon. The Anthem of Bop receives a rhapsodic and tremendous up-tempo workout. Al Hibbler was useful to Ellington but his baroque vocals do little for anyone else. Better to hear the righteous preaching of Lawrence Brown in It's Monday Everyday. There then follows one of Ellington’s more Beechamesque vocal introductions to the concluding Limehouse Blues in which Glenn’s (underrated) vibraphone playing is pithily introduced.

Of course devotees will know that Ellington’s performances on disc and in concert are voluminous, and that this repertoire was multiply recorded. It was however a good night at Cornell and this two disc set preserves a concert of real brio and drama.

Jonathan Woolf


See additional reviews by Pierre Giroux and Don Mather.


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