Although not as immortal as the Blanton-Webster sides of 1940, Braggin' in Brass contains enough Ellington gems to make it more than just a secondary collection. It especially benefits from a wealth of fine contributions by seasoned Ellington soloists like alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, clarinetist Barney Bigard, trumpeter Cootie Williams, trombonist Lawrence Brown, and baritone saxophonist Harry Carney. Along with perennial Ellingtonia like "I Let a Song Go out of My Heart" and "Prelude to a Kiss," there are minor classics here in "T.T. on Toast" and Rex Stewart's trumpet vehicle "Boy Meets Horn." Ivie Anderson, Ellington's "girl singer" at the time, gets the call for lighthearted swingers like "Skrontch," "You Gave Me the Gate (And I'm Swingin')," and "Rose of the Rio Grande," while the boss keeps the instrumental side of things engaging with ethereal mood pieces like "Lost in Meditation" and "Blue Light." Following up his own similarly exotic piece "Caravan," trombonist Juan Tizol contributes the near-Eastern theme "Pyramid," replete with hand-drum accompaniment by Sonny Greer. Although composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn would arrive a few years later, taking the band to new heights, this 1938 incarnation of Ellington's group held their own with many fine compositions, a seamless sense of swing, and a wealth of unique solo contributions, elements that set the group apart throughout the big-band era. Maybe not as essential as other Ellington tiles, but still highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook