If one wishes to find the best of Duke Ellington's work, one need only acquire a handful of recordings; the work of his blanton-webster band is (alongside Count Basie's Decca recordings) the greatest big band jazz ever recorded. That music is available on a 3 disc compilation called 'never no lament', and has suitably been accorded both a crown and core collection status in Penguin's guide. The set covers the period 1940-42, and that greatest of big bands sadly came to a premature end with the death from TB at the tender age of 23 of its brightest star, the bassist Jimmy Blanton.
Add to this Duke's famed live concert recordings from Fargo (1940) and Newport (1956) and you will arguably have all that you need. What none of these discs cover though are a generous handful of ellington's classics, such as take the A train, the early version of the black and tan fantasy and indeed a host of other numbers to emerge from his fruitful partnership with billy strayhorn. Throw in those, add a healthy dose of ellington's indispensable work at the cotton club and you have this 4CD set, in my opinion just what you need to complete your core collection of ellington recordings. As such, it deserves no less than 5 stars.