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Thanks to its Columbia connection, Sony mines a rich deposit for its Duke Ellington compilation

Duke Ellington
This is Jazz
Sony Music Rs 100

Duke Ellington recorded for Columbia in several periods of his long career. Sony thus had a rich deposit to mine for this selection, one of the highlights of the This Is Jazz series. Indeed, the range it covers, the first number marking the start of his career and the last number the hit that marked his revival at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956, is almost as breathtaking as his career.

Ellington first became famous for the unusual sounds his band produced, starting with the "growl" trumpet of Bubber Miley (made by a plumber's plunger used as mute for the horn) on East St Louis Toodle-oo. Recorded in 1927, it starts the album off with a bang.

Among the many great solos on this album one can't fail to mention Ray Nance's beautiful violin on "C" Jam Blues. Right from the time this trumpeter, part-time violinist, and occasional singer joined the Ellington orchestra, this was one number on which he unfailingly soloed. Here his dramatic take-off into the upper register is followed by trombone and clarinet solos. It's taken from a 1959 album on which Ellington recorded several pieces with smaller groups extracted from his big band. One of the others is Sentimental Lady, a poignant piece that Johnny Hodges on alto sax dominates right through -- intro, theme and solo.

The version of Ellington's theme song, Take the 'A' Train, featured here comes from a 1952 album. It's a pity it predates the advent of stereo recording, because with the composer Billy Strayhorn joining him on piano, stereo sound would've helped identify the two pianists and their contrasting styles. It's likely the light, treble touch on the melody in the intro is Strayhorn's, while the heavier percussive intervention in the bass is Ellington's. Apart from the extended piano intro, the piece is notable for the soft vocal of Betty Roche when the theme begins, followed by a scorching tenor sax solo by Paul Gonsalves.

Gonsalves was also the star of Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue at Newport in 1956. His six-minute solo sent the audience wild with excitement, already built up by a dramatic big band opening and topped by an even more dramatic ensemble finale with a trumpet solo. In between, Ellington's percussive piano kept up the momentum and bridged the ensemble parts with Gonsalves's solo.

Among the several other delights of the album are two pieces showcasing Ellington's piano talents, Solitude, with several solos, and Satin Doll, which he plays essentially as a duet between himself and Jimmy Woode on bass.


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