Duke Ellington

Black Butterfly

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In the early '80s, Mercer Ellington and Stanley Dance searched through the treasure trove of unreleased live and studio recordings by Duke Ellington to produce a series of Black Lion LPs. This volume is a mixed bag. Paul Gonsalves shines in "Happy Reunion," which debuted at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and was regularly performed by Ellington, though it never seemed to catch the public's attention as the composer hoped. A trio of pieces from Ellington and Strayhorn's suite "Such Sweet Thunder" showcase trombonist Britt Woodman, alto sax star Johnny Hodges, and cornetist Ray Nance in great form. Trumpeter Clark Terry, who was not featured often enough during his eight-plus year tenure with Ellington, is outstanding in "Perdido." The selections are less than perfect. It is obvious that Ellington and Strayhorn's adaptation of a Tchaikovsky composition (Chinoiserie) is still evolving at the time of this live recording. The solos (particularly by Paul Gonsalves) are potent, but the ensembles are a bit unsteady at times. The album ends with the inevitable concert medley of greatest hits, which was expected by audiences but only tolerated by longtime Ellington collectors.