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The Duke Ellington Reader
The Duke Ellington Reader
by Mark Tucker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential reference, 2 Sept. 2012
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The Ellington Reader gives some fascinating insights into the career of one of the most influential figures in the history of popular music through contemporaneous writing. The texts cover the full range of opinion (including The Duke's), resulting in a far more rounded and credible portrait than Ellington's very guarded autobiography, Music is My Mistress (Da Capo Paperback).

The book underlines how highly the younger Duke was regarded by devotees of classical music. Many people seem to have seen in him a figure with the potential to create something new and very exciting that might marry the intellectual rigour of the best classical music with the visceral attractions of the popular. The acid test for these people was whether Ellington could master the longer form, and he seemed determined to rise to the challenge. The overwhelming view here is that Ellington failed in this quest. He produced some three-minute pieces that qualify as timeless classics, but he never displayed a mastery of the structure of longer works. Maybe this does not matter. Those three minute pieces say enough on their own.

I was very happy to see a whole essay, written by André Hodaire, devoted to one of my favourite Ellington works, 'Concerto for Cootie'. Hodaire is also (unintentionally) responsible for one of the funniest parts of the book. Like many critics, he seems to have felt embarrassed and betrayed by some of Ellington's later works, especially inferior remakes of old classics. In 'Why Did Ellington 'Remake' His Masterpiece?', written in 1958, Hodaire rants hysterically about a rehash of 'Ko-Ko'. His text ends with a warning: "... it (the article) ... is meant to put the reader on guard against the enticements of a once glorious name which now represents only an endless succession of mistakes. This was the most ghastly mistake of all, and nothing can ever redeem for it."

Ouch! Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned. Ellington offered this defence: "... I don't want anyone to challenge my right to sound completely mad, to screech like a wild man, to create the mauve melody of a simpering idiot, or to write a song that praises God, if I so desire." Not bad, eh?

Mark Tucker has done a first-class job in selecting from what must have been a bewlidering choice, and I can't fault the way the book is organised. Amongst the many highlights I have two personal favourites: Pete Welding's 'On the Road with the Duke Ellington Orchestra' (1962) is wonderfully vivid and evocative; Max Harrison's 'Some Reflections on Ellington's Longer Works' (1964) is a brilliant and incisive piece.

The Ellington Reader is by far the best book about the man and his music that I've read to this point.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 8, 2013 4:13 PM BST


Scott and Bailey - Series 1 [DVD]
Scott and Bailey - Series 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Suranne Jones
Price: £8.44

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't let this one pass under the radar, 30 Aug. 2012
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In the quest for good DVD sets to help pass the long Northumbrian evenings, I came across the first series of Scott and Bailey. My expectations were low. I do not normally associate ITV with the making of high quality drama and I did not find the pedigree of the two leading actresses, Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp (Coronation Street and Afterlife respectively) very enticing.

I have now watched the first series twice, and my reaction has been the same each time: this is outstanding crime drama by any standards.

Its great strength lies in its construction. The plots of individual episodes are neat and simple. The temptation to over-egg the pudding, which disfigures so much TV drama, is avoided. As a consequence, the different strands of the storyline fit together in a most satisfying way. Ongoing themes like Scott's family life, her investigation of a 'cold case' and Bailey's relationship with the odious Nick (Rupert Graves), are handled with a deft touch. At the same time there is an attention to detail that rewards a keen eye. In episode three, when Nick has finished summing up in a court case, the lead characters mutter the word "tw@t" simultaneously. What's so clever about that? Nothing. It worked for me because I could easily relate to the situation; I would happily have said the same thing.

The whole cast impresses, including actors and actresses who appear as bit-part players in individual episodes. Spare a thought for Amelia Bullmore, who plays the boss, Gill Murray. She is excellent. Scott, Bailey and Murray is perhaps too much of a mouthful, but I think Bullmore deserves equal billing.

Suranne Jones and Sally Lindsay (Shelley Unwin from Coronation Street) came up with the original idea for the show. The writer, Sally Wainwright, also wrote 'Unforgiven', which features Jones. I'm going to look this out because, if this series is anything to go by, Wainwright is a writer worth following. It is no surprise to read that Wainwright teamed up with a former Detective Inspector from Greater Manchester Police, Diane Taylor, to create Scott and Bailey. This is one of the most credible protrayals of police procedure and behaviour that I have seen.

Such unpretensious TV drama is a breath of fresh air. Here's hoping that these high standards are maintained in the second series.


The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse
The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse
Offered by nagiry
Price: £9.65

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Who is enjoying the shadow of whom?, 22 Aug. 2012
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According to Mark Tucker in The Duke Ellington Reader, The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse was a suite composed by Ellington for the Monterey Jazz Festival of 1970. The Duke kicks off the first element of the suite, 'Chinoiserie' with a verbal explanation.

"Last year about this time", he says, "we premièred a new suite titled Afro-Eurasian Eclipse. And of course the title was inspired by a statement made by Mr Marshall McLuhan of the University of Toronto. Mr McLuhan says that the whole world is going oriental, and that no one will be able to retain his or her identity, not even the orientals. And of course we travel around the world a lot, and in the last five or six years we, too, have noticed this thing to be true. So, as a result, we have done a sort of thing, a parallel or something, and we'd like to play a little piece of it for you."

Of course, Duke.

Ellington gave the same speech when 'Chinoiserie' was played live. Stanley Dance informs us in the liner notes that: "Audiences... were never quite sure whether they were being put on or upstaged." No wonder. The Duke says, enigmatically: "... it's most improbable that anyone will ever know exactly who is enjoying the shadow of whom." I presume that the word 'shadow' is a reference to the eclipse of the title, and the implications of one body obscuring another. Who is enjoying the shadow? Who indeed.

Ellington doesn't take Marshall McLuhan's theory seriously. He uses it as a pretext for playing a none too subtle practical joke on his listeners. OK, the whole world is going oriental, and no-one will be able to retain his or her identity. How might that sound?

The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse is really a suite of five songs, not eight: 'Chinoiserie', 'Didjeridoo', 'Afrique', 'Gong' and 'Tang'. True to McLuhan's vision, these songs have no discernible sense of identity. Three more songs are dragged in to complete the work. 'Acht O'Clock Rock' was first recorded in 1967, and appears in the Ellington playlist any number of times prior to the appearance of 'Afro-Eurasian Eclipse'. 'True' is, in fact, 'Tell Me The Truth', from the first Sacred Concert. 'Hard Way' is a straightforward blues. I'm sure I've heard it somewhere else in the Ellington repertoire. Why on earth did Ellington select these apparently incongruous numbers to pad out the suite? Presumably because they might be said to conform to McLuhan's concept of the loss of identity: each of them is instantly forgettable.

The songs were recorded in 1971, but the suite was not released until 1979, more evidence that it was never intended to be viewed as a serious work. This hasn't stopped many people who might have known better being taken in. On release, the album was given a glowing review by Gary Giddins (the review is reproduced in full in The Duke Ellington Reader): "... its long awaited release should be cause for rejoicing throughout the land." The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings) is only slightly less effusive, proclaiming the work to be: "World music of a very high order."

Ellington is still laughing now. Giddins, Morton and Cook might have paused to consider the full implications of the word 'Chinoiserie' before committing themselves on The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse. This definition comes from Wikipedia:

"Chinoiserie is often expressed in the decorative arts of Europe, and its expression in architecture was entirely in the field of whimsical follies."

'Whimsical folly'? That'll do for me.

Too fanciful? Oh, I don't know. The alternative is that Ellington meant this music to be taken seriously, and that would not do.


Unknown Session
Unknown Session

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real thing, 20 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Unknown Session (Audio CD)
Navigating through the vast back catalogue of Duke Ellington's studio recordings can be a daunting prospect. Is it a 'best of', a random compilation, a collection from the Duke's 'stockpile' (not intended for release, so of indeterminate quality), or the real thing? 'Unknown Session' seems to fall between two stools. The 12 songs were all recorded in one take on one day (14th July 1960), but were not released by Columbia until 1979. As far as I'm aware, 'Unknown Session' has never been released on CD in the US. This is a 1990 European release which forms part of CBS' 'I Love Jazz' series.

In spite of its limited availability, I find it very hard to believe that this session was undertaken merely for the pleasure of the participants, and that Ellington had no intention of having it released. It is simply too good; 'Unknown Session' can be considered as one of Ellington's best small group sessions.

The Duke is accompanied by a choice group of Ellingtonians: Ray Nance (cornet); Lawrence Brown (trombone); Johnny Hodges (alto sax); Harry Carney (baritone sax); Aaron Bell (bass); Sam Woodyard (drums). The play list may not seem that promising, containing many songs that Ellington had played to death by this point - 'Black Beauty', 'All Too Soon', 'Something To Live For', 'Mood Indigo' - but the manner in which these pieces are arranged and performed breathes new life into them. Ellington standards are supplemented by some less familiar numbers. I think that 'Blues' and 'Dual Highway' are originals, and that 'Creole Blues' and 'Mighty Like The Blues' had only been recorded once previously by Ellington. The mood is laid back and profoundly melancholic. There is a unity of feel that underlines the fact that surely these twelve songs were intended to finish up, six each, on two sides of an LP.

The quality of the recording is very good. Arrangements are sparse, simple and effective, allowing the listener to appreciate individual performances to the full.

Ellington collectors may find that they own copies of a one or two of these songs. 'Black Beauty' appears on The Essential and Reminiscing in Tempo, and 'Something To Live For' and 'Creole Blues' can be found on The Duke: The Columbia Years (1927-1962). I can recommend The Essential for sound quality. 'Black Beauty' has been cleaned up quite considerably and sounds even more stunning in this version. What on earth is stopping Columbia from doing a similar job on the rest of 'Unknown Session' and giving it a new release?


New Mood Indigo
New Mood Indigo

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Five gold stars to Mercer, 17 Aug. 2012
This review is from: New Mood Indigo (Audio CD)
'New Mood Indigo' is not another worthless compilation of old Ellington recordings. Nor is it a collection of complete sessions. In the main, it cherry-picks from three sessions of very dubious merit indeed. Persevere, though, Ellington fan, because 'New Mood Indigo' contains one very interesting surprise.

Mystery surrounds the opening number, 'New Mood Indigo'. The liner notes claim that it was recorded in Japan in June 1964. WE Timner, in Ellingtonia: Recorded Music of Duke Ellington and His Sidemen (Studies in Jazz), lists one recording of this song, made at Universal Studios on 18th May 1965. Who's right? Does it matter? Having heard the song 'New Mood Indigo', I must answer with a resounding 'no'.

Stanley Dance gets the unenviable task of trying to big up this reworking: "... as a vehicle for improvisation his familiar number stood up rather well." Neat side-step, Stan. Time to move on.

Apparently, 'Jump For Joy', 'The Feeling of Jazz' and 'Mack The Knife', recorded in July 1962, were part of an aborted project to showcase the talents of Ray Nance in an album. Aborted? Listen, and all will become clear. OK, 'The Feeling of Jazz' is not that bad, and possibly the best Duke Ellington number on this set, but this is faint praise. 'Mack the Knife'? Don't go there.

'West Indian Pancake', 'Veldt Amour' and 'Wings and Things' are taken from a session recorded in March 1966. I struggle to summon up any enthusiasm for these pieces. On 'Veldt Amour' and 'Wings and Things' Sam Woodyard displays to the full his talent for wrecking a song by the simple expedient of playing the drums. He wasn't always this bad. When he was, I ask myself what on earth Ellington saw in him.

Nothing in the first six songs of this collection prepares the listener for 'In The Alley'. It is followed by 'Sassy', 'UPH' and 'Portrait of Pea', which confirm my first impression: this is very fine music. What on earth is going on? This session is credited to 'The Mercer Ellington Septet'. Timner confirms that The Duke played no part in these recordings, dating from January 1966. Louis Bellson plays drums, and I realise just how good he was, and how much difference this makes. He also wrote 'In The Alley'. 'Sassy', another fine number, was written by Aaron Bell, the bass player. The real standout, though, is 'UPH'. It was written by the piano player, one Chick Corea. Someone (Mercer Ellington? Corea? Paul Gonzalves?) coaxes a beautiful performance out of Gonzalves, which only goes to show how much his talents were wasted on bombastic, marathon solos. The session ends with 'Portrait of Pea', written by Mercer Ellington, and very much in the Billy ('Pea') Strayhorn style, with a heartstring-tugging Hodges lead.

This last session raises questions about Duke's leadership of his Orchestra in the later years. Don't get me wrong, I love Duke's music, but here there is a strong sense of players bettering themselves when freed from Duke's grip. What is especially noticeable is how polished the four Mercer Ellington songs sound, and how slap-dash the Duke's efforts appear by comparison.

If all the music in this collection was of the quality of the four songs credited to Mercer and his boys, I'd be awarding five gold stars. Good for you, Mercer.


The 1956-58 Small Group Recordings
The 1956-58 Small Group Recordings

3.0 out of 5 stars Where's the music? Lone Hill Jazz have hidden it, 17 Aug. 2012
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The liner notes for this collection inform us that it contains all known small group sessions recorded by Duke Ellington in the studio during the 1950s. I have no reason to doubt this assertion and I'm not about to check its veracity. There is also one big band recording, included on the basis that it was recorded on the same day as one of the other sessions.

Appropriately enough, Ellington appears on the cover with tenor sax player Paul Gonsalves. Gonsalves is heavily featured. Stanley Dance tells us that: "... he (Gonsalves) was one of the greatest tenor players jazz has produced."

That's news to me, Stanley. I'm not a great fan of Gonsalves. I prefer the full sound of a Ben Webster to Gonsalves' astringent and reedy whine. I recognise that Gonsalves was a fine musician, but don't feel that his interests were best served by his success at the Newport Festival of 1956. Subsequently, he seems to have allowed himself to be pigeon holed as some kind of saxophone masochist, dragged forward to perform implausibly drawn out solos that relied too heavily on stamina and effort and too little on inspiration.

The running order of this set is plain daft. The more central the role played by Gonsalves, the earlier the session appears here. So, we get two quartet recordings starring Gonsalves first, followed by a quintet with Clark Terry added, three sessions in which Gonsalves was involved and, finally, one session from which he was omitted. And yes, the highlight of this CD is the session which does not feature Gonsalves at all, which is an absolute cracker. It was recorded in March 1956. If the CD had been ordered chronologically this session would have come first, placing the best music at the beginning. No, Lone Hill Jazz knew better.

Time to focus on the session of March 1956. The players are Clark Terry (cornet); John Sanders (valve trombone); Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet); Johnny Hodges (alto sax); Jimmy Woode (bass); Sam Woodyard (drums); Ellington (piano). 'Way Back Blues' is a laid back number featuring excellent work by Hamilton, Hodges and Terry. 'Where's the Music?' is a lovely piece. "There's no performance quite like this one in the whole canon of Ellington's music", says Stanley Dance, and this time he's right. If you are an Ellington fan and 'Where's the Music?' is not in your collection, you are missing out. 'Rubber Bottom' contrasts nicely. It's a fairly thin idea, but it's fun. The session ends with 'Play the Blues and Go', another enjoyable performance which tends to suggest that everybody was in a good mood on this day. There is sterling work here from Hodges, Sanders, Terry and Hamilton.

The positive vibe is sustained during the big band recording of the same day, which ends this set. 'Prelude to a Kiss' is given a heartfelt performance; 'Miss Lucy' is not the greatest song, but there is something I like about it. I'm no fan of 'March 19th Blues', which strikes me as Ellington and his orchestra treading water in a way which, if you are determined to seek out music from the 'stockpile', you are going to hear rather a lot.

It's a pity that one excellent session is given such low billing in an otherwise rather forgettable collection.


Jazz Suite inspired by Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood
Jazz Suite inspired by Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The spirit of Llareggub, 15 Aug. 2012
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Hearing 'Cockle Row', the first song in this collection, a listener familiar with American jazz might be forgiven for thinking that the work is a tribute to Thelonious Monk. I am slightly uncomfortable with Stan Tracey's often slavish recreation of Monk's idiosyncratic style but, on the evidence of this suite, Tracey is a jazz composer of merit. The second piece, 'Starless And Bible Black', has nothing at all to do with Monk, and manages to transcend the genre, taking us to a place every bit as dark as suggested by the title.

Monkian or not, 'Cockle Row', 'No Good Boyo' and 'Llareggub' are built around good ideas. 'Penpals' is a great song and, once more, Tracey steps out of Monk's shadow.

Bobby Wellins' tenor sax work on 'Starless And Bible Black' is rightly celebrated. His playing is characterised by a thin tone and hesitant delivery which work well in this setting. Elsewhere, when more robust and fluent playing is called for, Wellins is less convincing. Jeff Clyne (double bass) and Jackie Dougan (drums) are both competent, rather than inspirational musicians. Consequently, the songs are less engaging when more space is given for soloing.

Notwithstanding these reservations, Tracey's jazz suite succeeds in evoking the spirit of Llareggub. There is a definite sense of 'feel' and unity about this work, and in this it stands out.

NB: I am reviewing Stan Tracey's 'Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood', recorded in 1965, and released on Blue Note International. Search for this item listed as 'Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood', rather than as 'Under Milk Wood' and you might find it offered more cheaply. I did.


Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood
Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood
Offered by Ocelot Europe
Price: £38.14

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The spirit of Llareggub, 14 Aug. 2012
Hearing 'Cockle Row', the first song in this collection, a listener familiar with American jazz might be forgiven for thinking that the work is a tribute to Thelonious Monk. I am slightly uncomfortable with Stan Tracey's often slavish recreation of Monk's idiosyncratic style but, on the evidence of this suite, Tracey is a jazz composer of merit. The second piece, 'Starless And Bible Black', has nothing at all to do with Monk, and manages to transcend the genre, taking us to a place every bit as dark as suggested by the title.

Monkian or not, 'Cockle Row', 'No Good Boyo' and 'Llareggub' are built around very good ideas. 'Penpals' is a great song and, once more, Tracey steps out of Monk's shadow.

Bobby Wellins' tenor sax work on 'Starless And Bible Black' is rightly celebrated. His playing is characterised by a thin tone and hesitant delivery which work well in this setting. Elsewhere, when more robust and fluent playing is called for, Wellins is less convincing. Jeff Clyne (double bass) and Jackie Dougan (drums) are both competent, rather than inspirational musicians. Consequently, the songs are less engaging when more space is given for soloing.

Notwithstanding these reservations, Tracey's jazz suite succeeds in evoking the spirit of Llareggub. There is a definite sense of 'feel' and unity about this work, and in this it stands out.

NB: I am reviewing Stan Tracey's 'Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood', recorded in 1965, and released on Blue Note International. Search for this item listed as 'Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood', rather than as 'Under Milk Wood' and you might find it offered more cheaply. I did.


Wallander - Collected Films 1-7 [DVD] [2005]
Wallander - Collected Films 1-7 [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Krister Henriksson
Offered by 5-star-media
Price: £15.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The high water mark, 2 July 2012
Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term 'suspension of disbelief', suggesting that if a writer could infuse "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative. (Source: Wikipedia).

I don't follow drama series on television. Instead, I ask people for recommendations after the fact and watch the DVD in my own time. That's how I came across Wallander, and I enjoyed this set.

Krister Henriksson is great as Kurt Wallander. Indeed, the acting is universally excellent. For me, Kurt's relationship with his daughter Linda (Johanna Sällström) is the driving force in these films. I must mention Mats Bergman here too. He plays Nyberg and is very engaging. I looked him up; he is Ingmar Bergman's son.

Films 1-7 kept me entertained. However, the problems of plot and continuity which weigh down Wallander throughout and, for me, become insurmountable in films 14-20, fester beneath the surface. In terms of plot, the episode 'Mastermind' exemplifies the main issues. In many ways, this was the most chilling and exciting episode. It was clever; too clever by far. What do you do when the dust settles? Had 'Mastermind' really happened to these people, relationships would have been changed for ever. This issue was not successfully resolved by the writers, and there is a crass and inexcusable failure of continuity in the case of Linda following on from this episode.

Henning Mankell, the writer of Wallander, gets star billing. This is not Wallander, this is Mankell's Wallander. Here, as far as I'm concerned, lies the problem. In these early films, the presence of Linda Wallander provides Coleridge's human interest and a semblance of truth, but a fine team of actors and actresses is battling against plots that simply do not hold together. 'Mastermind' marked the point where Mankell stretched my credulity too far, and the point from which I was no longer able to suspend my disbelief.

These Wallander sets tend to come with a rather hefty price tag. In the case of this set, I feel that the expense is justified. Wallander- Collected Films 8-13 [DVD] is worth seeing because the excellent Johanna Sällström continues in the role of Linda Wallander. However, films 8-13 are noticeably weaker; better to wait for a bargain. Sällström committed suicide in 2007. Wallander films made subsequent to her death (films 14 onwards) are of limited interest. The very brief Wikipedia entry on Sällström's life is well worth reading, and offers some clues as to what might have gone wrong with the later Wallander films.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 25, 2012 7:49 PM BST


Duke Ellington: The Reprise Studio Recordings
Duke Ellington: The Reprise Studio Recordings

4.0 out of 5 stars Bask in it, 24 Feb. 2012
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Ellington recorded for the Reprise label between November 1962 and April 1965 (and once more in 1967 for the 'Francis A & Edward K' album). A quick perusal of the nine Reprisal albums that make up this set is hardly very enticing: two efforts that yearn for the time when big bands roamed the Earth ('Will The Big Bands Ever Come Back?' and 'Recollections Of The Big Band Era'); two made up of interpretations of hackneyed pop tunes of the day ('Ellington '65' and 'Ellington '66'); symphonic recordings shoe-horned into tours with an absurd lack of rehearsal time ('The Symphonic Ellington'); a cover of a Julie Andrews musical ('Mary Poppins'); a live album that is not a live album ('Concert In The Virgin Islands'); much scraping and plucking ('Duke Ellington's Jazz Violin Session'); and an album of 12 songs, half of which are rehashes (Afro-Bossa). No, this is not Ellington at his peak, but dismissing this body of work would deprive the listener of a treasure trove of great Ellingtonia.

This Warner/Rhino release has the distinction of being a shrunken version of the impeccable Mosaic Records set of the same name. The Penguin Guide to Jazz reassures us that "... mastering, artwork, sleeve-notes, it's all the same." 'Sleeve notes' does not do justice to the excellent 64 page booklet which includes a full discography and an essay written by Mark Tucker. One note of caution: my copy is labelled 'Spiegel Edition', and the text is in German. I bought the Mosaic booklet. That's how I can assure you that the contents are identical. Tucker's essay includes helpful descriptions of individual songs. I have just listened to the whole of 'Afro-Bossa' in the light of these descriptions, and new layers have been revealed to me.

There are comparatively few Ellington originals here, which might be seen as a drawback, but for me this provides one of the points of interest of the collection. By comparing originals with the Ellington version, we get some startling examples of the workings of the Ellington/Strayhorn partnership. I think that it is important to mention Billy Strayhorn here, because Tucker argues strongly for the fact that he played a more active role in arranging for the Ellington Orchestra than I had previously imagined. I have a particular fondness for a number of the recordings that make up 'Will The Big Bands Ever Come Back?' and 'Recollections Of The Big Band Era'. From the framework of other people's songs, Ellington and Strayhorn conjure textures that are unique.

Clearly 'Afro-Bossa' is the outstanding album in the collection, and a masterclass in the arranger's art. It is interesting, then, to read Ray Nance's comments as reported by Stanley Dance:

"Take that Afro-Bossa album. Instead of letting us work on the arrangements for two or three weeks, he sprang them on us right away. When we tried out new material at dances or on the job, it paid off."

It may sound like heresy, but I'm going to disagree with Nance. I think that the fact that Ellington sprang ideas on his players was an inspired decision. Yes, there are risks involved, but this approach reduces the risk of ideas becoming stale and encourages members of the orchestra to think on their feet, or pay the consequences. I've got a live recording of the song 'Afro-Bossa' played at the Champs Elysees Theatre in January 1965, a full two years on. I prefer the studio version.

You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. For all of the excellence of the arrangements and the playing, I cannot see past some of the bizarre selections that make up 'Ellington '65' and 'Ellington '66'. 'Blowin' In The Wind' and 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'? Duke, you cannot be serious.

Don't let that one gripe put you off. From the opening bars of 'Christopher Columbus' the opulence of the sound engulfs you. I reckon you could do worse than to take the advice of Richard Cook and Brian Morton from The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings): sit back and bask in it!


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