on 7 October 2011
All of these 10-cd sets from Membran offer excellent value - the best in terms of minutes of music/£ that I've ever found - on pre-1950s Jazz (all of which is out of copyright, which explains the low price). The catch is always the same - no booklet, no liner notes whatsoever, no disc/sessionography of any sort. You get track names, but not the dates on which they were performed. If you can look beyond this however you will find no more cost-effective a way to expand your Jazz library. I wouldn't really recommend any of these sets to jazz newcomers, because the overwhelming quantity of music (about 10 hours of music) can be rather off-putting, especially without any notes or supplementary material.
In each case, one also has to ask whether one really wants so much music by the same artist? In the case of Duke Ellington, most jazz enthusiasts should enthusiastically say yes! The Duke is one of the most important figures in Jazz, and although this set by no means covers the whole of his career, it pretty effectively showcases the best of the earlier part of his career (pre-1950). Despite the budget price, the sound on all these has been cleaned up and is as good as you can get for music from this period.
Although as noted there are no supplementary notes or information, the tracks do seem to be arranged chronologically, and a little searching in online discographies gives you an idea of what is exactly on offer here. Interestingly, although Ellington's recording career starts as early as the 1920s, the earliest recordings on here seem to date from 1938, which is just as well as this is when the music gets especially good.
All the music on the discs is Ellington with a big band, his preferred format. Back in those days bands didn't produce 'albums' as such so it's not possible to say what discs you get, but these discs seem to contain the master takes of pretty much everything the Duke Ellington Orchestra recorded in studios between 1938 and 1945, with a little material also from 1946-7. These include all the master takes of the so-called Blanton-Webster Band of 1940-42, often considered Ellington's musical peak; these takes are often released in sets together costing much more than this whole box.
Years for each track (might not be 100% accurrate)
CD1, CD2 Track 1-7: 1938
CD2 Track 8-21, CD3 Track 1-8: 1939
CD3 Track 9-20, CD4, CD5 Track 1-6 : 1940
CD5 Track 7-20, CD6 Track 1-11: 1941
CD6 Track 12-20, CD7 Track 1-3: 1942
CD7 Track 4-8: 1943
CD7 Track 9-18, CD8 Track 1-2: 1944
CD8 Track 3-18, CD9, CD10 Track 1-14: 1945
CD10 Track 15-19: 1946
CD10 Track 10: 1947
An excellent set of Duke's earlier music,containing the absolutely indispensible Blanton/Webster recordings within its broad sweep.They alone should be enough to persuade anyone to buy this,as for some reason Sony have discontinued their 3cd box set of these seminal recordings.Bizarre behaviour indeed,but record companies are odd creatures(to put it politely!).So if you don't have these,get 'em here.This was released previously,like the Charlie Parker set Membran offer,on Past Perfect,so don't make the mistake of purchasing again if you have these already,but,although Membran are certainly no-frills(I can't say I even like the cardboard they use,but I'm just being picky),they offer pretty good value,and really cannot be beaten in many instances.Is this worth your time and money?Undoubtedly.Duke is the greatest composer America has ever(most probably will ever)produced.You should know his work,but if not get this.If you do know him,but don't have this period extensively in your collection,get this.In short,get this.