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Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington Copenhagen 1958 (Bonus: After Hours 1950)


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Duke Ellington hated flying so, in 1958, Ellington and Co sailed into Southampton UK to prepare for a tour of Europe. Before going on to Copenhagen, Ellington completed a tour of the UK, taking in Leeds where he met Queen Elizabeth, an event which eventually resulted in the "Queen's Suite." Earlier in the year, his strange obsession with royalty had produced a piece for Princess Margaret, "Princess Blue'"

The band was particularly strong in this part of its history and the personnel had been stable for some time.. In 1957 The Shakespearean Suite had been recorded and was fresh in the mind. The triumph of the Newport Festival in 1956 was where Ellington's renaissance took place, propelled by the Paul Gonsalves solo on "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue'"

"Newport Up" sets the early pace at Copenhagen, faster than its inception at Newport. It was part three of the Newport Jazz Festival Suite. It features Jimmy Hamilton, Clark Terry and Paul Gonsalves.

The trumpet section was particularly strong, with each man having a distinctive sound and technique. They could blend together when needed and express their individuality in their solos. "El Gato," with a Spanish tinge, has Cat Anderson reaching the audience-pleasing high notes. The rest of the trumpet section plays a series of chase choruses, the full tone of Shorty Baker contrasting with the bop playing of Clark Terry, the agitated phrasing of Ray Nance set against the powerful playing of Anderson in the high register of the instrument.

In the trombone section, John Sanders was the junior member. Quentin Jackson had inherited the role of Tricky Sam Nanton, and his technique with mutes was the equal of Nanton. Jackson has a leading role in the "My Funny Valentine" arrangement. He is also heard on "Rockin' In Rhythm."

"Such Sweet Thunder," the Shakespeare suite, was premiered in 1957; here it is represented by Britt Woodman in "Sonnet to Hank Cinq'" (Henry the Fifth). Britt Woodman displays great agility in a piece which involves octave leaps.

Johnny Hodges distinctive powerful voice gave the band its unique sound. The voice of Hodges dominates the saxophone section—"Prelude to A Kiss" here is full, rich and glowing. His playing is strong even when pianissimo, unruffled and perfectly formed even when shouting over a full band crescendo. It is rich in blues phrasing at every point on "Things Ain't What They Used To Be." Harry Carney who had been with Ellington since the 1920s produces an earthy rich sonority. It is a pity that he is just given the solo part in "Sophisticated Lady," a piece that he could play in his sleep. However, it is just a reminder of the depth of his sound and its importance to the overall sound of the band.

Paul Gonsalves was expected to produce fast and furious facsimiles of his Newport solo and he does here. Reproducing this piece night after night must have been a strain. Gonsalves, in addition to producing the tearaway solos, was capable of producing deeply emotional ballads.

Ellington was not noted for his ability to choose vocalists. Ozzie Bailey had a sweet, pleasant voice. Unfortunately, his contribution comes from "A Drum is A Woman." The lyrics seem to recommend beating women: a sentiment which will run counter to many modern views.

Sam Woodyard is a little over-recorded and his feature on 'Hi Hi Fo Fum' is short and finishes in a whisper. The album also includes make weight bonus tracks from after-hours settings in 1950; three tracks from a jam session at a dance restaurant in Copenhagen and two solo Ellington tunes recorded at a social charity event in Aarhus.

This is not the best representation of the Ellington band at this rich period. The recording sometimes lacks definition and the sound is occasionally congested. However, there are few legitimate live recordings from this band on the road at this period, so there is a rarity value.

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