This release on Essential Jazz Classics finally makes widely available on CD two Ellington albums recorded in 1962.
This is the first time 'All American In Jazz' has been available in this format. Having heard it now, I have to wonder how such an enjoyable record can have remained in the shadows for so long. It is a bizarre concept, to be sure: these are Ellington's jazz takes on songs from an obscure and, I infer from the liner notes, not very successful musical. The music was written by Charlie Strouse and yet every note sounds Ellingtonian. The feel of some of these songs reminds me of Ellington and Strayhorn's 'Such Sweet Thunder', and the work does not suffer in comparison. The album is very short, consisting of ten songs, but give me quality over quantity any day. The only song that left me a little cold was the closing flag-waver, 'What A Country!' The arrangements are sparse and crafted with care, allowing the listener to bask in the delights of prime Hodges, Carney, Brown, Nance, Hamilton and Gonsalves, to name but a few. You've got to like the Duke and Strayhorn's bitter-sweet voicings to go for this. If you do, you are in for a treat.
'Midnight In Paris' makes for an interesting comparison. On the face of it, there are obvious similarities: only three songs were written by Ellington or Strayhorn; the personnel is similar; and the arrangements are quite roomy. In reality it's chalk and cheese. Where 'All American In Jazz' is perky, fun and inventive, 'Midnight In Paris' is laboured and, frankly, a bit bland. Still, it's worth having for the fact that it contains a number of songs you'll never hear Ellington play anywhere else.
Essential Jazz Classics seem to like to include bonus tracks for the sake of it, and this release is no exception. The vocal version of 'Paris Blues' is cringe-inducing and a solo guitar version of 'Guitar Amour' doesn't belong here: it's lifted straight off the soundtrack album 'Paris Blues'.
On another day I might question Ellington's choice of drummer. That would be to steal the thunder of 'All American In Jazz', a fine unheralded Ellington/Strayhorn record.