Duke Ellington – Festival Session
Duel Fuel, Parts 1-3
Idiom ’59, Parts 1-3
Things Ain’t What They Used To Be
The Harlem Suite
The Controversial Suite, Parts 1 and 2
Duke Ellington and his Orchestra
Recorded September 1959 except The Harlem Suite and The Controversial
Festival Session refers to the studio recording Ellington made of pieces he
had presented at the Newport and Playboy jazz festivals in 1959. There
were, admittedly, old favourites such as Perdido and Things Ain’t. In fact Copout Extension is a kind of
elaboration of the piece recorded in 1957 as simply Copout. But Duel Fuel, Idiom ’59 and Launching Pad were new and some
of the items in this disc were premiered in July 1959 at Newport. The
last-named piece in point of fact was written by Clark Terry and
orchestrated by Ellington. Added to the disc are two suites: one very
well-known and the other largely and possibly deservedly forgotten.
It’s Terry who is the star of Perdido, his fluid sinuous soloing
including inimitable evidence of his capricious and vitalising
individuality. No wonder there’s a practiced cry of ‘Clark Terry’ at the
end, the modern-day equivalent of ‘Oh Play that Thing’ – and just as
merited. The eight-minute Copout Extension is largely a feature
for Gonsalves, a reminiscence of his famous Newport 1956 virtuoso flourish
on Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue. Drummer Sam Woodyard is on
hard to beat out a similarly inflexible but rock-steady beat and Gonsalves
gives the listener much of what they want even if he does run out of ideas
toward the end.
is in three parts and features a drum battle between Woodyard and Jimmy
Johnson separated by a central, pithy movement with a piano-led riff. Your
tolerance for this will depend on your liking for compressed drum battles. Idiom’59 is also cast in three movements and represents an
altogether more exalted standard. The saxophone textures are sublime;
Russell Procope’s alto and that of Johnny Hodges blend well over the bass
clarinet – as well as the more expected baritone sax – of Harry Carney.
Carney’s bass clarinet work here can be heard in almost perfect definition.
What a superb player he was, on whatever instrument he graced, and how
under-estimated still, one feels. It’s also engaging to contrast Jimmy
Hamilton’s quintessentially classical-toned clarinet playing – a marble
pillar of sound – with Procope’s richer, more rugged tone. To add to the
pleasure there’s a characteristically insouciant Ducal piano solo in the
final panel of the suite. If you were waiting for solo Hodges you have to
wait until Things Ain’t – and it’s quite a wait – whilst Terry
stars on Launching Pad.
The bonus tracks go back to December 1951. The Harlem Suite is too
well-known for much comment, except don’t overlook Hamilton’s haunting
clarinet, but The Controversial Suite needs a few words. It had a
very short shelf life in the Duke’s book. It’s a mélange of Jazz styles in
two parts, a kind of historical critique with cod-Dixieland, New Orleans
and Swing. The first part is sub-titled ‘Before My Time’ (whose, one
wonders?) and the second ‘Later’. Either way, it’s pretty terrible and it’s
no surprise - the joke wearing thin – that Duke dropped it.
The Festival Session has been reissued with other couplings that may be
more tempting than the two suites. But with a handy gatefold card this
24-bit remastered transfer emerges very well indeed.