8 Classic Albums [Audio CD] Duke Ellington Box set, Original recording remastered
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Includes the following albums - Such Sweet Thunder, Black Brown and Beige, Duke Ellington At The Bal Masque, The Cosmic Scene, Anatony Of A Murder, Nutcracker Suite, Piano In The Foreground, Together Again
Top customer reviews
So first, the suites. Such Sweet Thunder is to me the best album on the set, and one of Duke's very best big band suites. The concept - a suite of music inspired by Shakespeare's plays - seems pretty bizairre, but this really is one of the Duke's best suites and contains some really atmospheric, brooding and beautiful music. Black, Brown & Beige is *almost* as good, but is hampered by the fact that it isn't complete (not because the makers of this set have omitted anything - this album version doesn't have the full suite as it was originally conceived) and it always feels more like an "excerpts from" than a whole coherent work, which is exactly what is.
I find less to recommend in the other two suites. Anatomy of a Murder seems to be quite popular but it's always seemed quite anonymous music to me, when compared with Ellington's best. The Nutcracker - well, this one is certainly entertaining. Throw it on at Christmas for an alternative seasonal soundtrack. I'm never quite sure whether this one was supposed to be a serious attempt or a bit of a laugh on Strayhorn/Ellingtons' parts. Personally, I like it, but find it pretty difficult to take it seriously and certainly wouldn't rate it up there with the better discs on this set.
I'll be honest - Louis Armstrong is an artist I can take or leave. I love his trumpet playing, but I tend not to like his choice of themes and his singing, iconic though it is, doesn't grab me. There's nothing particularly to fault with Together Again, his small group collaboration with Duke included here, but it just doesn't do it for me personally - Armstrong sings more than he plays, and by 1961 his playing had declined a little (though it would do so much more over the next few years). The Cosmic Scene, the other small-group-with-horns album here, features a mindblowingly good uptempo "Body & Soul", a feature for Tenor Saxophonist Paul Gonsalves (not that you'd know, as this set gives you nothing beyond a track-list of course) which is probably the greatest single track on this set and ranks up there with some of the very best interpretations of the tune - it's just a shame that the rest of the record is rather forgettable by comparison. Piano in the Foreground must be one of the most inappropriately named albums ever, as you'll not find a more restrained and reserved piano trio album this side of Ahmad Jamal: Duke never was really much of a pianist; his place in the Jazz canon was earned through his skill was as a bandleader, composer and arranger and it's often remarked that he put little effort into his occasional spotlight piano records. Again, nothing wrong with it, but not much to recommend either.
My least favourite of the albums included here is the live one, At the Bal Masque. It opens with "Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?". Now, I know Jazz artists have often made much of slight material (e.g. Coltrane's "My Favorite Things"), but this isn't one of those occasions and the album as a whole is simply utterly forgettable.
So, on balance, while there's some very good stuff here, it's probably not overall a great set to go for by the standards of these 8-album sets - there's too much average stuff in among the good stuff to make it a high priortity purchase.
1) SUCH SWEET THUNDER: 7/8/56. A major work. Duke was a Shakespeare fan as was Billy Strayhorn. The title comes from 'Midsummer Night's Dream' inspired by Othello's story to Desdemona. Cat Anderson(t),Ray Nance(t)Clarke Terry(t) Willie Cook(t),Joe Sanders(tbn), Britt Woodman(tbn),Quentin Jackson(tbn), Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney (reeds), Jimmy wood (bs), Sam Woodyard(d), Ellington. 'Hanq Cinq' is a remarkable showcase for Woodman. 'Sister Kate' is a sad moving tale. 'Up and Down' is a vehicle for Clarke Terry. A wonderful album.
2)BLACK BROWN AND BEIGE: Feb 1958. Originally when released personnel and dates were confusing. Cat Anderson(t),Ray Nance(t,vn), Quentin Jackson(tb), Britt Woodman(tb),Johnn Sanders(tb,v-tb), Bill Graham (as,ts), Russell Procope(as,cl),Jimmy Hamilton(cl,ts), Paul Gonsalves(ts),Harry Carney(bs,cl),Jimmy Woode(b), Sam Woodyard(d),Mahalia Jackson(v),Ellington. Numbered in parts. 'Work Song' and 'Come Sunday' are probably the standout tracks with Woodyard, Carney and Jackson working in unison. Mahalia Jackson is singing gospel accompanied by Ellington. (Bessie Smith may have given more?)
3) AT THE BAL MASQUE: (March/April 1958). Same personnel as above with Betty Glammann(harp), Terry Snyder(percussion), Candido Carmero (bongo), Margeret Tynes, Joyce Sherrill, Ozzie Bailey (choir). Apparently a fantasy of Ellington's rooms. An odd record with Ellingtonian satire. Having said that, the band are superb. Hodges is exemplary on 'Alice Blue Gown' and 'Gypsy Love Song'. Likewise, Jackson on 'Donkey Serenade' and Nance on 'Peanut Butter'. Gonsalves demonstrates his brilliance on 'Oh Poor Butterfly'. Humorous and excellent.
4)THE COSMIC SCENE: April 2/3 1958: Clarke Terry, Quentin Jackson, John Sanders, Britt Woodman, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Woode, Sam Woodyard, Ellington.
Reputedly many Jimmy Hamilton arrangements. 'Perdido', Body and Soul', 'Early Autumn'(where is Getz?),'Bass-ment',(a take on 'Discontented Blues'), add up to a satisfying compilation.
5)ANATOMY OF A MURDER: May/June 1959: Personel consistent. Add Gerald Wilson(t), Billy Strayhorn(p), Booty Wood(tb). Baker(t) and Woodyard are not present. Ellington's score for Otto Preminger's film. Not a favourite of mine, but for completists. The title is something out of a Hitchcock thriller with the bonus of the band particularly Gonsalves's solo (Rock and rolling).Impeccably played with a bonus of swing and more gentle songs.
6)NUTCRACKER SUITE: May/June 1960. LA. Add Willie Cook(t), Andres Maringuito(t),Eddie Mullins(t), Jean Tizel(v-tb), Lawrwnce Brown(tb),Aeron Bell(b) as replacement/additional personel. Ellington puts his mark on arrangements that add to tempo, mood and colour. Never short of ideas, he drives the band through 'Overture' with Ray Nance outstanding. 'Entr'acte' likewise with Gonsalves, Carney prominent. 'Sugar Rum Cherry' receives a more mellow Gonsalves. Another wonderful Ellington band.
7)PIANO IN THE FOREGROUND: 1/3/61. Aeron Bell(b),Sam Woodyard(d),Ellington. Recorded the year after the big band 'Piano in the Background'. Very much an Ellington show with a mastery of the blues. 'So', 'Blues For Jerry' and a collection of standards. He is more assertive on 'Summertime', apparently a reaction to events in the Congo at the time. 'Springtime In Africa' is unlike Ellington's usual compositions. A real treat to hear him on his instrument with just bass and drum accompaniment.
8)TOGETHER AGAIN: April 3/4 1961 NY: This is fine dialogue between two legends of music. Louis Armstrong is in great form backed by Ellington's touch on the piano. 'Mooche', 'Black and Tan' and 'Im In the Mood' are truly great tracks.
Another wonderful compilation. If you don't have them they will give many hours of pleasure. Pricewise nonsensical. These are truly classic. A must for any fan or collector. Sound good. Finally, Ellington is quoted as saying "playing bop is like scrabble with all the vowels missing". No doubt tongue in cheek.
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Anyone who has an interest in jazz should buy this. Recommended.
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