Duke Ellington

Concerts in Canada 1956/1973

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This LP issued by the Duke Ellington Society was issued to celebrate their annual conference in 1987, which took place in Canada. Appropriately, the album takes excerpts from two Canadian concerts by Ellington. The 1956 set comes from the Stratford Shakespearean Festival in Ontario, mixing time-tested favorites like "Take the A Train" (with Ray Nance's trademarked jive vocals), "Harlem Air Shaft" (featuring trumpeter Clark Terry), and a pair of tasty originals by Jimmy Hamilton ("Clarinet Melodrama" and "Theme for Trambean"). Baritone saxophonist Harry Carney shines in the always elegant ballad "Sophisticated Lady."

By the time of Ellington's 1973 concert in Winnipeg, his band had been somewhat decimated by the death or retirement of a number of his star soloists, though Harry Carney, Russell Procope, and Paul Gonsalves were still on hand from the 1956 band, and trumpet great Cootie Williams had returned over a decade earlier. Veteran alto saxophonist Murray McEachern (who doubles on trombone) also makes his recorded debut with the Ellington band, though he remained for only a brief period. The second side of the LP is in stereo, starting off with a rousing rendition of "C Jam Blues," followed by lukewarm treatments of "Creole Love Call" (though clarinetist Russell Procope is excellent) and "Perdido." Of greater interest are newer works by Ellington. The exotic "La Plus Belle Africaine" (which had been premiered eight years earlier and called for frequently during concerts) primarily spotlights the leader and bassist Joe Benjamin, though Carney makes his presence known with a powerful solo. Unfortunately, the brass and reeds sound under-rehearsed in portions of "Chinoiserie," though tenor saxophonist Harold Ashby's gritty solo is up to par. Not exactly an essential record for the average jazz fan, though serious collectors of Duke Ellington will want to search for it.

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