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This is a hand-picked introduction to the later Ellington

Duke Ellington
Legends of the 20th Century

Virgin Records

Rs 125

Virgin Records is the latest incarnation through which Capitol/ EMI music is being published in India. Although this compilation is new in India, the fine print on the inlay card shows it was evidently released by EMI in 1999, the Ellington centenary year. The copious fine print also tells us everything about the recording dates and musicians participating on each track.

Ellington made some landmark recordings for Capitol in the '50s and after, including a session with Louis Armstrong's sextet, Ellington naturally displacing the pianist, in 1961 and a trio with his admirer Charles Mingus on bass and Max Roach on drums in 1962. The last two tracks are from this latter session and the three before that from the Ellington-Armstrong session. The first ten tracks, taken from 1953 and 1954, feature Ellington leading his regular band in a period of regeneration after the decline of swing big bands in the late '40s. Many of them have turned up on earlier Capitol compilations, but the inclusion of stuff from the Armstrong and Roach-Mingus sessions makes this the most representative Ellington anthology album from EMI I know of.

Like any Ellington anthology, it shows the great variety of sounds and moods the Duke was fond of. For the ballads In a sentimental mood and Prelude to a kiss, for instance, he reduces his band to a trio with bass and drums and gives himself a workout as a piano soloist. The trumpeter Ray Nance turns up in his part-time role of violin soloist on Flamingo and the rip-roaring C-jam Blues, being famous for his violin solos on the latter. He was equally famous as a part-time singer on Just A-sittin' and A-rockin', a number on which he shares the feature spot here with Paul Gonsalves on tenor sax and Wendell Marshall on bass.

Harry Carney puts in a baritone sax solo amid the clarinet and trombone solos on the rollicking Rockin' in rhythm, while the equally riotous Things ain't what they used to be has a series of solos on alto sax, high-register trumpet and tenor sax with plenty of ensemble play counterpointing the tenor sax solo.

Piano solos have to jostle for room with clarinet, trombone and bass on the Armstrong-Ellington numbers, but Ellington's quiet accompaniment always makes its presence felt on these three gems . The mooche, Mood indigo and I got it bad and that ain't good. All show Armstrong in form with trumpet solos and the last two revive the genius of his characteristic vocals, including scat singing.

On Fleurette Africaine and Solitude with Roach and Mingus, Ellington leads with his piano solos. The former in fact is a duo performance by Ellington and Mingus, who opens the piece with a brief solo before Ellington's own. On the latter, a ballad, a long opening piano solo sets the mood for the trio, while Mingus closes with a bass solo. In sum, a hand-picked introduction to the later Ellington.


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