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This box set of seven CDs, one DVD and an illustrated booklet celebrates the latter part of Duke Ellington's monumental career. It opens with the so-called "Silver Jubilee" 1952 coast-to-coast broadcasts from Birdland in New York City by NBC. They were held to mark the 25th anniversary of Ellington's breakthrough first gig at the Cotton Club on December 4, 1927.
One of the musical highlights comes early on with Ray Nance on CD1 growling his way through "The Mooche," recreating the "jungle sound" of Ellington's Cotton Club days.
But the Birdland gig was no simple trip down memory lane. Ever anxious to be seen to be on the cutting edge, Ellington used it to demonstrate the ability of his orchestra to absorb the changes brought about by be-bop. His version of "How High The Moon" features the Charlie Parker "Ornithology" variation of the melody before, six tracks on, trumpeter Clark Terry infuses "Perdido" with his very own brand of understated, tongue-in-cheek bop.
Elsewhere, the music suffers somewhat from NBC's desire to emphasize the cultural importance of the occasion, with celebrities in the audience called to the microphone by MC William B. Williams to attest. These includemost interestinglyBritish critic, pianist and composer Leonard Feather.
Ellington performs his comic party piece monologue "Pretty And The Wolf" and assures the audience over and over again that he and all the boys in the band do love them madly.
Things calm down on CD2 with a pretty typical 1958 concert in Munich featuring Ducal compositions new and old, plus the inevitable "greatest hits" medleys to generate royalties (and pay the band's wages). By now "The Mooche" and "Creole Love Call" are also played as a medley, meshing pretty well.
One of the stand-out tracks is "Newport Up" with Clark Terry on flugelhorn, Jimmy Hamilton on clarinet and Paul Gonsalves on tenor. The closer , "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue," starts out as an attempt to recreate Gonsalves' epic performance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival but fades out before the tenor star can really get going. Never mind, he fares better on the DVD.
On CD3 the band is caught on tape while playing a week-long booking at the Gröna Lund amusement park in Stockholm. It's a different date to the one featured on the Storyville double album Duke Ellington In Gröna Lund, released in 2014. Trumpeter Eddie Preston, depping for Cat Anderson, goes to town on an ultra fast version of "Perdido."
The remaining CDs are from the Ellington "stockpile," recordings of self-financed sessions from the Duke's own vaults. No.4 is of particular interest, concentrating as it does on Ellington's mostly unaccompanied piano playing. Two versions of "Meditation" provide a chance to hear the maestro in the process of creating a song. The "final" version would be featured in his Second Sacred Concert in 1968 (The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1927-1973).
CD5 was recordedby the full orchestraat the RCA studios in New York in 1966-67. The session was the score for "The Jaywalker," a "religious drama" about a boy "crucified" at a busy road junction in a crash between a Rolls Royce and a truck. It was written by British film actress Barbara Waring and intended for production in Coventry Cathedral.
It is memorable for two things: Cootie Williams' playing of "The Shepherd," a magnificent slow blues that Duke later incorporated into his Second Sacred Concert; and for Ellington's musical dialogue with conga drummer Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim, sometimes likened to an abreviated version of Dizzy Gillespie's collaboration with Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo.
CD6, from 19701972, reveals Ellington nearing the end of his life but still capable of springing surprises. He attempts to come to terms with the "New Thing" via such enigmatic compositions as "Rext" and "Flute" and new, spare arrangements of "Sophisticated Lady" and "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good."
The video on the DVD was filmed at Pathé Studios in New York in 1962. It captures Paul Gonsalves in full flight on "Blow By Blow" and Sam Woodyard doing some astonishing things with his drum kit on "Kind Of Dukish."
It's a lot to digest but Duke Box 2 provides a highly entertaining and well-rounded portrait of one of the few jazzmen truly worthy of the title genius.
Track Listing: CD1: Take The A Train; The Mooche; How High The Moon; The Tattooed Bride; Medley: Solitude, Lullaby Of Birdland; Take The A Train; Lullaby Of Birdland; Take The A Train; Perdido; Pretty And The Wolf; Things Ain’t What They Used To Be; Take The A Train; Caravan; Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me; C Jam Blues; Creole Love Call; Just Squeeze Me; Take The A Train; Lullaby Of Birdland.
CD2: Take The A Train; Medley: Black And Tan Fantasy, Creole Love Call, The Mooche; Newport Up; Sophisticated Lady; Sonnet To Hank Cinq; What Else Can You Do With A Drum?; Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me; Jeep’s Blues; Take The A Train; Hi Fi Fo Fum; Medley: Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me, In A Sentimental Mood, Mood Indigo, I’m Beginning To See The Light, Sophisticated Lady, Caravan, I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good, Just Squeeze Me, It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Diminuendo In Blue.
CD3: Take The A Train; Afro Bossa; Perdido; Medley: Satin Doll, Solitude. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Mood Indigo; I’m Beginning To See The Light; Sophisticated Lady, Caravan, Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me, I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good, Just Squeeze Me, It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing, I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Satin Doll.
CD4: Meditation #1; Single Petal Of A Rose; Blues #1; Nagoya; Unidentified Title/Little African Flower; Meditation #2; T.G.T.T/Little Purple Flower; The River – A Ballet Suite; The Spring; The Run; The Meander; Grap (The Giggling Rapids); The Lake; Stud (The Neo-Hip-Hot Cool Kiddies Community; Riddle; Blues #2; Blues #3.
CD5: The Shepherd – Take 2; Up Jump – Take 4; Rue Bleu; Chromatic Love Affair – Take 1; Salome – Take 1; Blood Count – Take 1; El Viti – Take 1; Kixx – Take 2; Eggo – Take 7; I’m Hip Too – Take 4; Amta – Take 3; Warr – Take 1; Little Purple Flower – Take 6; Traffic Cop – Take 1; Untitled Blues – Take 1; Policia – Take 1; The B.O. Of Traffic – Take 3; Mac – Take 5; Traffic Extension – Take 1; Star – Take 1; Cross Climax – Take 1; B.O. Man – Take 1; Tin Soldier.
CD6: Rext; Flute; Soft; Mixt; Alerado; Afrique; Second Line; RTM; Sophisticated Lady; Big Luv; I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good; Looking For My Man; No Title; Pretty Girl; Dreaming By The Fire; Pat Your Feet (Rick’s Blues); Mood Indigo; Duke Ellington; New York, New York.
CD7: Mkis (Soul Soothing Beach); Tego; Togo Or Yoyo (Naturellement); Too Kee (Amour Amour); Buss (Right On Togo); Soso; Toto (Afrique); Peke; Chekered Hat; There’s A Place; Blues; Hick; Grap (The Giggling Rapids); Something; Making That Scene (Love Scene); Lover Man; Perdido.
DVD: Take The A Train; Satin Doll; Blow By Blow; Things Ain’t What They Used To Be; VIP Boogie/Jam With Sam; Kind Of Dukish.
Personnel: Cootie Williams, Eddie Preston, Rolf Ericson, Ray Nance, Cat Anderson, Clark Terry, Willie Cook, Harold “Shorty” Baker, Herbie Jones, Mercer Ellington, Fred Stone, Money Johnson, Richard Williams, Al Rubin, Dave Burns, Nelson Williams, John Coles, Bill Berry, Ed Mullens: trumpets; Lawrence Brown, Chuck Connors, Buster Cooper, Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman, Juan Tizol, John Sanders, Booty Wood, Malcolm Taylor, Julian Priester, Cliff Heathers, Tyree Glenn, Vince Prudente, Leon Cox: trombones; Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney, Hilton Jefferson, Paul Gonsalves, Norris Turney, Harold Ashby, Buddy Pearson, Harold Minerve: reeds; Duke Ellington: piano; Wild Bill Davis: organ; Wendell Marshall, Ernie Shepard, Jimmy Woode, John Lamb, Joe Benjamin, Aaron Bell: bass; Sam Woodyard, Ed Shaughnessy, Rufus Jones, Bobby Durham, Chris Columbo: drums; Elayne Jones: tympani; Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim: congas. Betty Roche, Jimmy Grissom, Ozzie Bailey, Nell Brookshire, Anita Moore, Tony Watkins: vocals.
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