Duke Ellington never really had a "Musicraft period" -- his active relationship with the label lasted barely two months. And based on the length of the material featured, this seems like a paltry CD -- but the quality and range of what he cut in those two months is amazing. Ellington's contract with RCA Victor ended during the summer of 1946, and rather than sign with one of the majors, he was persuaded to record for Musicraft, a small independent label, where he was offered the freedom to cut some of his conceptual, experimental works, which RCA Victor had been slow to accept. He only recorded for the label from October through December of that year, when the company's shaky financing brought Ellington's Musicraft work to a halt. Those two months, however, revealed more of Ellington's aspirations as a composer and bandleader than much of his earlier output for RCA. Overlooking the sultry pop number "It Shouldn't Happen to a Dream" (sung by Al Hibbler), the Musicraft sessions were Ellington's first extended venture into recording his most ambitious music, anticipating his Columbia sessions of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Beginning with a stunningly energetic, soaring "Diminuendo in Blue," an eight-year-old concert piece which inaugurated these sessions (and was to become a major part of Ellington's legacy in its extended Newport incarnation ten years later), the Musicraft sessions reached into corners of Ellington's music that had eluded the interest of his previous record labels. "The Beautiful Indians Parts 1 & 2" (featuring a haunting, bluesy, soaring wordless vocal performance by Kay Davis) was an extension of the experimental concept pieces he'd been introducing at his Carnegie Hall concerts since 1943, and "Magenta Haze," a moody, dazzling alto sax showcase for Johnny Hodges that had been in Ellington's repertory for a year, finally got captured for posterity as well. Even the title track, "Happy Go Lucky Local Parts 1 & 2," was a portion -- alas, only a portion, for even Musicraft was unwilling to take the risk of cutting an impractically long and involved suite -- of a then-current Ellington concept piece, the "Deep South Suite," which he'd cut for a transcription session and introduced in concert in 1946. Another fragment of a larger Ellington piece, a virtuoso showcase called "Jam-A-Ditty (Concerto for Four Jazz Horns)," from The Tonal Group, also showed up on these Musicraft sessions. Harry Carney's baritone sax is spotlighted in "The Golden Feather," a contemporary tribute to jazz writer Leonard Feather, who was among Ellington's most dedicated supporters. And Mary Lou Williams' arrangement of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" (subtitled "Trumpet No End") closes out this release. The sound is exceptionally vivid and very clean, considering that these were done on transcription discs, and this release folds in very neatly to both the RCA/BMG Ellington Centennial set and Hindsight's Ellington Collection box.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder