Duke Ellington

Ellington '55

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The general outlook on Ellington's two-year stay at Capitol Records is that they were a series of missed opportunities, the label being unwilling to let him do much more than pop-oriented singles and recover old ground. That may be true, and the original marketing campaign behind this album ("Old tunes, new treatments for your listening and dancing pleasure") only seemed to back up this perception. Capitol's strategy seems to have been a compromise based on his prior work for Columbia -- there were no recordings of experimental, long-form pieces, which Columbia had occasionally allowed, but Ellington's pop numbers were extended out to five and six minutes each, to allow for multiple solos. The tunes represented on this album (augmented on the 1999 reissue by two bonus tracks from later sessions) were precisely what the band was playing at its dance dates, of which there were many, as subsequent releases by Atlantic and GNP-Crescendo tell us, and it was material like this that was keeping the band going, filling those dates. So it is hard to argue with the album's programming, which reflected the taste of the most visible part of Ellington's audience. Additionally, what's here is quite fine in the playing -- "Flying Home" is a superb showcase for Clark Terry's and Cat Anderson's trumpets, and Jimmy Hamilton's clarinet is beautifully represented on "Honeysuckle Rose," among other tracks. Whether getting Ellington and company to cover numbers like "In the Mood" or even "One O'Clock Jump," with Jimmy Hamilton and Paul Gonsalves each soloing, was the best use of their time and talents is another question, considering what this band was capable of. It's hard to complain about the recording though -- Capitol's hi-fi sound served the band very well, as is borne out on this reissue.

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