During the 1960s and early '70s, Duke Ellington toured his orchestra all over the world, widening and broadening the scope of his travels to include as many nations as humanly possible. BGO's 1999 release, The English Concert contains music that was actually recorded at three different concerts. The first occurred at the Odeon Theatre in Bristol England on October 22, 1971; the other two performances, presumably a matinee and evening show, both took place at the Birmingham Theatre in Birmingham on October 24, 1971. Originally issued on the United Artists label, this relatively unknown caché of live Ellingtonia features two of the Duke's most vivid latter day works: the "Togo Brava-Brava Togo Suite" (complete with the composer's gently enunciated description of "...a hundred miles of beautiful silver sand beach with a southern exposure facing the equator on the western bulge of Africa") and the positively mind expanding "La Plus Belle Africaine." Ellington explains to the audience that this piece was composed in anticipation of the orchestra's "first visit to Africa -- after writing African music for thirty-five years!" Key participants include trumpeters Cootie Williams, Money Johnson and Johnny Coles; trombonists Chuck Connors and Booty Wood; saxophonists Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves and Harold Ashby; sax and flute men Harold "Geezil" Minerve and Norris Turney, and string bassist Joe Benjamin, who duets with Duke on Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom." (Minerve, incidentally, was also handy with the piccolo). "Happy Reunion" is performed by a quartet composed of Gonsalves and the rhythm section; "Checkered Hat" was Norris Turney's portrait of Johnny Hodges; it is a good likeness and a moving tribute to the alto saxophonist who had passed away suddenly only months earlier. This excellent late period Ellington album deserves wider recognition.
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