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Duke Ellington Orchestra: Big Bands Live

Dan McClenaghan By

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By 1967, the heyday of the big band was over. Rock and Roll ruled as the popular music of the day, and the financial challenges of keeping a large ensemble together for recording—and especially touring—were huge. But Duke Ellington—one of American's finest bandleaders, pianists, and composers—was more than just a genius in the field of music. He also succeeded as a business man, keeping his orchestra not only busy on the road, but also creating his finest art—what he called "American Music"—in the 1960s and 70s.

Big Bands Live: Duke Ellington Orchestra, is the second release from the Jazzhaus music label's "Big Bands Live" series, and it captures the group in top form in a previously unreleased 1967 concert recording in Stuttgart, Germany.

The fourteen-piece group opens with brief ride on the orchestra's theme, "Take the "A" Train," before launching into another Billy Strayhorn jewel, "Johnny Come Lately." Ellington sparkles on piano in front of John Lamb's walking bass, his spare elegance giving way to the orchestra that gathers momentum, sounding juiced up and full of fire as they feed off the enthusiastic audience.

For the most part, the thirteen tunes here aren't the most famous in the Ellington songbook and less than full-on Ellington fans probably won't recognize "Swamp Goo," "Rue Bleue," "The Shepherd," or "Kixx," which are all vintage Ellington compositions. The soloing is consistently first rate—Ellington's classy piano intros, trumpeter Cootie Williams' jungle cat growls, baritone saxophonist Harry Carney's deep, mellifluous little concertos, and Johnny Hodges' angelically beautiful alto saxophone.

The year 1967 saw the releases of a couple of extraordinary Ellington studio albums: ...and His Mother Called Him Bill (RCA ), and Far East Suite (Bluebird ); live and tearing it up, Big Bands Live: Duke Ellington Orchestra is a superb addition to this fertile period in Ellington's creative output.

Track Listing: Take the "A" Train; Johnny Come Lately; Swamp Goo; Knob Hill; Eggo; La Plus Belle Africaine; Rue Bleue; A Chromatic Love Affair; Salome; The Shepherd; Tutti for Cootie; Freakish Lights; Kixx.

Personnel: Duke Ellington: piano; Cat Anderson: trumpet; Cootie Williams: trumpet; Herbie Jones: trumpet; Mercer Ellington: trumpet; Paul Gonsalves: tenor saxophone; Johnny Hodges: alto saxophone; Harry Carney: baritone saxophone, clarinet; Russel Procope: clarinetr, alto saxophone; Jimmy Hamilton: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Chick Conners trombone; Lawence Brown: trombone; Buster Cooper: trombone; John Lamb: bass; Rufus Jones: drums.

Title: Big Bands Live | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: JazzHausMusik

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