Releases such as this Jazz Hour CD compilation can drive a Duke Ellington collector nuts. Generic liner notes fail to identify the source of these recordings, though Tom Lord's The Jazz Discography indicates that many, if not all, of the selections were taped in the 1960s during various rehearsal sessions in the studio, and one or more concerts. The brash and bluesy "Taffy Twist" showcases a brief trumpet solo (possibly Cat Anderson) and a long, gritty tenor sax solo, likely by Jimmy Hamilton rather than Paul Gonsalves. An oddball version of "Black and Tan Fantasy" evidently has two pianos, with one regular and another sounding like a honky tonk piano. Ellington sits out both "Smada" and "What Am I Here For?," but his presence is clearly felt in the studio. Ray Nance's good-natured vocals in "Jump for Joy" and his trumpet solo in "Take the 'A' Train" (the latter is incorrectly labeled as a medley of "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore") have merit. The fat-toned trumpet in "Pyramid" has to be Cootie Williams, while Harry Carney's powerful baritone sax wraps the piece with a potent coda. The CD concludes with several live tracks. Hamilton (now heard on clarinet) and bassist John Lamb are showcased in an early live rendition of "La Plus Belle Africaine," a piece that was still taking shape, as Harry Carney actually lets loose with a rare reed squeak. The audience is amused by something during Johnny Hodges' ballad feature, "Isfahan." Of little interest is yet another long medley of Ellington's hits, which is a part of far too many of the composer's releases. Far from an essential item in the vast Ellington catalog, this poorly packaged CD is of borderline value at best.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden