The end of the Swing Era and the advent of small group jazz signaled the death for many of the big bands, but some, like Duke Ellington's, were able to soldier on and continue to produce some compelling work. In 1950 Ellington toured Europe to enthusiastic crowds; Zurich, where this concert was recorded was no exception. Caught between the innovations of the Blanton/Webster band and the resurgence marked by the Newport Jazz Festival later, we find Ellington taking advantage of the lull in the interest in dance bands to present some compelling new works.
This works to Ellington's advantage since he was always one to experiment with the form rather than stay locked in to one format. But let's lake a look at the band first, since there were some top-notch soloists at the time: Ernie Royal, Ray Nance, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, Don Byasobviously the band was well stacked.
There are a few chestnuts here, like "Creole Love Call" and "Take the 'A' Train" as well as masterful orchestrations of standards like "How High the Moon" and "'S Wonderful." But of particular interest to Ellington fans will be the original compositions that are seldom heard, like "Suddenly It Jumped" and the twelve-minute "The Tattooed Bride." None are quite as masterful as the classic Ellington compositions, yet are still worth of being included in the canon.
This is a fiery performance, as if Ellington felt he still had to prove that the big band was still relevant in the fifties. There is little of the nuance and orchestral shadings of some of Ellington's most beautiful work. Instead we get something more along the lines of a Woody Herman or Stan Kenton performance: robust, energetic, and in your face.
Considering that this is a radio broadcast, the sound is excellent. All of the sections can be heard, and the rhythm section, which often gets muddy in other recordings, is captured well.
Many people who have Ellington in their collection may be missing this era in the bandleader's history, a lost chapter in many ways in Ellingtonia. This recording captures what the Duke was up to at the time: continuing to produce innovative music on his way to establishing his immortality.
Personnel: Harold Baker, Al Killian, Nelson Williams, Ernie Royal, Ray Nance: trumpets: Lawrence Brown, Quentin Jackson, Theodore Kelly: trombones; Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Don Byas, Alva McCain, Harry Carney: saxes; Duke Ellington: piano and leader; Billy Strayhorn: piano; Wendell Marshall: bass; Sonny Greer, Butch Ballard: drums; Kay Davis: vocals.