Metaphorically equating the Ellington Orchestra with the Amazon River is an easy prospect. The hundreds of players who passed through its ranks are as numerous as the tributaries that pour into the mighty South American waterway. Ellington’s skill at shaping and sculpting his sidemen into his monumental sound and vision is legendary and with good reason. None of the musicians who spent time under Duke’s tutelage left without retaining a lasting imprint of his influence. Taft Jordan, Ellington’s trumpeter from 1943-47, demonstrates how indelible the influence could be on the two sessions gathered for this disc.
The first session in particular minces no words in its debt to the Duke and serves as an ideal tribute. Jordan chose seven of the maestro’s most cozy melodies for the date and he and his sidemen set to work paying them the homage they deserve. His choice of instrumentation for the group is another feather in the cap and his judicious use of mutes adds to a pervading mood of dreamy languidity. Burrell’s guitar crochets a delicate architecture of chords on each of the pieces and Persip’s sparse drum patterns contribute to the relaxed atmosphere. It’s difficult to choose favorites among the seven treasures polished by the group but their renditions of “Warm Valley” and “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” win out in the category of elegant, easygoing swing. On the former Persip’s mallets build an exotic undertone beneath Jordan’s melancholic brass giving him the chance to show off his growling chops with a plunger.
the Ellington influence is equally pervasive on the second session though Jordan features a completely different line-up. With the addition of Sears and Jefferson, fellow members of the Ellington fraternity, the horn section not only triples in size, it also adopts a harder swinging edge. The opening “Carnegie Hall Blues” is filled with lusty solos from both of the saxophonists and “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” hits a rocking groove thanks to Johnson’s tight traps work. Marshall stays mainly in the background, but his rounded pulse is always audible pushing his partners along. Jordan really opens things up on this session and routinely blows sonorous, but stentorian lines across the solid, but unobtrusive rhythm section. Sears is sometimes just off mike and his positioning adds a resonating echo to the sound of his reed. As a whole this disc presents two excellent slices of small group Ellington-influenced swing under the able leadership of Jordan and should be sought out by enthusiasts of the Duke’s music.