For fans of jazz, it is deeply, satisfyingly appropriate that Kenny Burrell should be the one to organize this splendid homage to Duke Ellington. It is a well-known fact that Burrell was the Duke's favorite guitarist, and legend has it that on one occasion when Burrell couldn't make a date, Ellington chose to cut the guitar part from the score rather than have it performed by a lesser player. On Ellington Is Forever, Vol. 1, Burrell has put together a small big band, if you will, to perform 12 Ellington or Strayhorn compositions. It is a high-class affair, featuring such notables as Jimmy Smith, Thad Jones, and Joe Henderson, who turns in one of the most memorable solos on the record on "Caravan." The leader remains mostly inconspicuous throughout, comping tastefully and soloing with his typical funkiness when the music calls for it, but never drawing undue attention to himself. In fact, Burrell is so subservient to the music, so respectful of the contributions of his fellow musicians, that one would never guess that Ellington Is Forever is his own project. This is clearly an affectionate tribute, one born out of close association as well as great appreciation. Besides Burrell, another notable Ellington collaborator present on these dates is pianist Jimmy Jones, whose solo rendition of "Take the 'A' Train" puts the song "in requiem status" according to no less an authority than Jerome Richardson, who is also present on this record. What makes Ellington Is Forever really special, however, is the presence of vocalist Ernie Andrews on two tracks, who swings soulfully through terrific renditions of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and "My Little Brown Book." A long time favorite of Burrell, Andrews simply owns this material. His contributions are too brief. As far as shortcomings are concerned, it ought to be mentioned that the recording is slightly lacking in lower frequency response. For example, Stanley Gilbert's bass, though masterfully played, lacks the resonance that the listener would like to hear. This, however, is a minor complaint. Ellington Is Forever, Vol. 1 is a fitting tribute to one of the giants of American music, and the second volume, which followed two years later, is just as good.
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AllMusic Review by Daniel Gioffre