Upon listening to Once Upon A Time for the first time, you may have to glance at the cover to confirm that you aren’t listening to an Ellington album by mistake, for this session is littered with Ellington stalwarts like Johnny Hodges, Ray Nance, Paul Gonsalves, and Jimmy Hamilton. You may also do a double take when you notice that the rest of the rhythm section is comprised of mavericks Richard Davis and Elvin Jones.
Despite the incongruities, they all conspire to create a grand swinging session that features heavy dollops of boogie woogie and swing and plenty of growls, smears, and plungers as well. Working through a variety of numbers from a brooding “Black and Tan Fantasy” to a frenetic “Cottontail,” pianist Earl Hines and company produce some first-rate big band music. The horn and reed men deliver some scalding choruses; Cat Anderson in particular rises to the occasion for some blistering high register solos. Surprisingly, Jones and Davis stick close to the beat and Hines, a reluctant soloist, prefers to fan the flames in the background.
Pee Wee Russell steps in for “The Blues In My Flat,” which also features an effective vocal delivery by Ray Nance. After being an artist for so long, it’s refreshing to see one of the old masters at the top of his game so late in his career. A welcome reissue, especially for those who are eager to see assorted Ellington sidemen strut their stuff.
1. Once Upon A Time 2. Black and Tan Fantasy 3. Fantastic That
Earl Hines-piano; Cat Anderson, Bill Berry, Ray Nance, Clark Terry-trumpet; Lawrence Brown,
Buster Cooper-trombone; Jimmy Hamilton-clarinet, tenor saxophone; Pee Wee Russell-clarinet;
Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope-alto saxophone; Harold Ashby, Paul Gonsalves-tenor saxophone;
Richard Davis, Aaron Bell-bass; Elvin Jones, Sonny Greer-drums.