Duke Ellington was extraordinarily generous in allowing members of this band to record on their own while working for him. This generosity is something we all should be grateful for. Otherwise we would never have experienced the pleasure of hearing small groups headed by Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard and Rex Stewart. This album was originally recorded by a group of Ellington stalwarts in 1958 for Germany's Bertelsmann Record Club. It was finally issued in the US on CD by RCA Victor last year as part of that label's Classic Edition series. During this time, Ellington was on an extended European tour that took him to England, Norway, France, Sweden and Holland. The C-Jam All Stars had Clark Terry, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Woode and Sam Woodyard. But instead of Ellington sitting in on piano, a local pianist of no small skill, Carlos Diernhammer, was called upon. He wasn't only an accomplished pianist, but a composer as well. One of his more notable writing achievements was the score for the German cult horror film The Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse.
The play list is a mix of Ellington pieces, a couple of standards and five tunes written by Terry or Gonsalves. The latter are little more than blues based head arrangements serving as the platform for the solo artistry each member of the group. All good stuff. But it's the more familiar material which catches the ear. Gonsalves does his thing with "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue". While not approaching the 27 choruses of the1956 Newport Jazz Festival performance, he continues to generate sparks showing no signs of ennui which might have set in because of the many times he had to play the tune because of Newport. "I Cover the Waterfront" is enhanced by a lovely Terry muted trumpet sequing into a soft melodic tenor by Gonsalves which makes this track especially appealing. But soloing is not the only good thing on this set. There's some outstanding, up beat ensemble playing as on "It Don't Mean a Thing (if It Ain't Got That Swing)". There is always something special about the rhythm support of Woode and Woodyard. Their long association with Ellington gave these players the ability to anticipate just what each soloist's move was going to be during their extended extemporizations. This familiarity allowed them to smoothly meet the needs of the instrumentalists.
It's been a long time coming, but finally we in the US can enjoy this German session. Just one complaint. There's only 35 minutes of music. But highly recommended anyway.
Personnel: Clark Terry - Trumpet; Paul Gonsalves - Tenor Saxophone; Carlos Diernhammer - Piano; Jimmy Woode - Bass; Sam Woodyard - Drums