Duke Ellington

1952-1953

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You've got to hand it to the folks at Classics. This is Vol. 43 in their meticulous chronological survey of the recorded works of Duke Ellington. Opening with eight and a half glorious minutes of Juan Tizol's "Perdido," this disc provides a glimpse of Duke's orchestra at a time when the music industry was allowing a lot of big bands to dry up and blow away. How sweet -- and hot -- it is to hear this particular ensemble, bristling with a brass menagerie including Clark Terry, Cat Anderson, Butter Jackson, and Britt Woodman. Drummer Louie Bellson is prominently featured on his nearly seven-minute percussion showcase, "Skin Deep." These two extended LP tracks are followed by a series of lesser-known three-minute recordings. "Ballin' the Blues," with shout vocal by Jimmy Grissom, sounds almost like Wynonie Harris. A second version from 1953 provides a rare example of Ellington the boogie-woogie pianist. "Body and Soul," eloquently sung by Betty Roche, comes across majestically cool. "Primpin' for the Prom" turns on the magical Ellington light show, evoking a breathtaking sunset over any large city's skyline. Grissom grinds out a rather neurotic-sounding "Vulture Song," most memorable for Jimmy Hamilton's clarinet runs. "Satin Doll" is charming in this early incarnation. Grissom keeps returning with fairly gruesome existential offerings that make one wish for the stylistic exaggerations of Al Hibbler. But the instrumentals are exquisitely rendered. "Cocktails for Two" unfolds beautifully, and Paul Gonsalves shares "My Old Flame" with Hamilton's clarinet. Duke lays down a few delightfully eccentric chords at the piano during the opening of a marvelous rendition of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." "Three Little Words" is particularly handsome. "Orson," apparently a portrait of a certain Hollywood director, has an appropriately film noir flavor. "Boo-Dah" features Billy Strayhorn at the piano. "Blossom," an Ellington/Strayhorn collaboration, breathes with beatific calm. The disc ends with an updated "Warm Valley," featuring the milky tenor saxophone of Paul Gonsalves.

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