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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

At the Cotton Club

Storyville 1038415

 

 


CD1
1. Swing Session
2. Medley: Solitude/In a Sentimental Mood
3. Harmony in Harlem
4. If You Were in My Place
5. Mood Indigo
6. Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo
7. Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo
8. Oh Babe, Maybe Someday
9. Dinah's in a Jam
10. If Dreams Come True
11. Scrontch
12. You Went to my Head
13. Three Blind Mice
14. Solitude
15. Downtown Uproar
16. Dinah's in a Jam
17. On the Sunny side of the Street
18. Ev'ry Day
19. Azure
20. Carnival in Caroline
21. Harmony in Harlem
22. At Your Beck and Call
23. Solitude
24. The Gal from Joe's
25. Riding on a Blue Note
26. If Dreams Come True

CD2
1. Oh Babe, Maybe Someday
2. I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart
3. Birmingham Breakdown
4. Rose Room
5. If Dreams Come True
6. It's the Dreamer in Me
7. Lost in Meditation
8. Ev'ry Day
9. Echoes Of Harlem
10. Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo
11. Jig Walk
12. In a Sentimental Mood
13. I'm Slapping 7th Avenue
14. Lost In Meditation
15. Alabamy Home
16. If You Were in My Place
17. Prelude in C Sharp Minor
18. Rockin' in Rhythm
19. Serenade to Sweden
20. Rockin' in Rhythm
21. In a Red Little Cottage
22. Clip from the Cotton Club

Duke Ellington - Piano
Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams - Trumpets
Rex Stewart - Cornet
Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton, Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown - Trombones
Barney Bigard - Clarinet
Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney - Reeds
Fred Guy - Guitar
Billy Taylor - Bass
Sonny Greer - Drums
Ivie Anderson - Vocals

 

The name of Duke Ellington is virtually synonymous with the Cotton Club, as a result of his ground-breaking residency at the club from 1927 to 1931. The Ellington orchestra returned to the club at various times in later years, and most of these recordings were made from broadcasts there between March and May 1938. Although we know many of these pieces from studio recordings, this double CD provides a chance to hear them in a less formalised setting - and some of the numbers were never recorded anywhere else.

The album actually begins with a couple of solo piano performances by the Duke, taped from a broadcast in May 1937. They illustrate Ellington's early influences from stride piano but also his tender playing of a tune like Solitude. Harmony in Harlem displays Duke's abilities as a composer and arranger. At one point in the tune, three sections of the orchestra are playing different lines contrapuntally. If You Were in My Place exhibits the band's precision, with a sequence of very fast staccato notes from the brass. Mood Indigo may seem hackneyed by now but Ellington's piano chorus and the following richly-orchestrated section work make it fresh.

East St Louis Toodle-Oo is used as a recurrent theme but it is typical of Ellington that all its appearances are different. Ivie Anderson - one of the band's finest vocalists - sings the first of two varied performances of Oh Babe, Maybe Someday. Dinah's in a Jam has a male vocal chorus smoothly crooning Dinah, followed by incisive solos from Cootie Williams and Lawrence Brown. It segues into the first of three versions on the album of If Dreams Come True.

Scrontch (or The Skrontch) is introduced optimistically by the announcer as "the latest dance craze". Some interference in the sound doesn't undermine Ivie Anderson's vivacious performance. Ivie also shines in You Went to my Head. Three Blind Mice doesn't sound like normal Ellington fare but it is lifted by solos from Lawrence Brown, Cootie Williams, and Johnny Hodges on soaring soprano sax. Ellington's opulent arrangement of Solitude is marred by fuzzy recording.

Downtown Uproar introduces a "band-within-the-band" led by Cootie Williams. It includes a Bechet-like soprano solo from Hodges, some typically dextrous playing by Harry Carney, and powerful drum breaks by Sonny Greer. A second performance of Dinah's in a Jam is very different from the first one, consisting basically of solos backed by rhythmic riffs.

Johnny Hodges' angelic alto sax introduces On the Sunny Side of the Street, where Ivie Anderson slurs the lyrics in the style of Louis Armstrong. The first of two performances of Ev'ry Day (also known as Evah Day) features the distinctive clarinet of Barney Bigard. Its jump style contrasts with the following Azure, whose ample arrangement is hindered by poor recording quality. It is worth noting that these recordings were made by Renaissance man Joseph Schillinger on equipment that was comparatively sophisticated for the period.

Barney Bigard is outstanding in Carnival in Caroline, and a rerun of Harmony in Harlem spotlights Hodges' soprano, while The Gal from Joe's features his alto. Riding on a Blue Note has Cootie Williams playing plunger-muted trumpet in the mode which Bubber Miley introduced to the Ellington band.

The second CD repeats several of the tunes heard on the first disc, although often with variations. For instance, Oh Babe, Maybe Someday is very different from the interpretation in CD1, and the band begins to sound like the Blanton-Webster ensemble of the 1940s. Outstanding tracks on this CD include the lively Birmingham Breakdown; Rose Room (which Ellington introduces on piano with the phrase he later used to open In a Mellotone, which has the same chord sequence); Echoes of Harlem which allows Cootie Williams to play a soulful extended solo; and the two versions of Rockin' in Rhythm - which differ considerably from one another. Several tracks on this album fade out in mid-stream, which is a pity.

The last three tracks were recorded at a 1939 concert in Stockholm. Serenade to Sweden is an atmospheric piece with heartfelt solos from Lawrence Brown and the bandleader. In a Red Little Cottage is an anglicisation of a charming Swedish folk-song, with a jaunty solo by Harry Carney on baritone and puckish clarinet from Barney Bigard. As a bonus, the album is rounded off with a short video about Harlem and the Cotton Club.

Despite the varied recording quality, Ellingtonians everywhere will want this generous document of the band in the late 1930s, recorded just before the arrival of Billy Strayhorn, Jimmy Blanton and Ben Webster was to transform the group irrevocably.

Tony Augarde



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