Duke Ellington

V-Disc Recordings

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This triple-CD set fills in some important holes around Duke Ellington's '40s RCA-Victor output. The World War II-era V-Disc program helped raise morale among soldiers, and it also gave an opportunity -- overlapping as it did with two ill-advised Musicians' Union strikes against the record companies -- for many artists to capture the sounds of certain lineups that might otherwise have been lost. The Ellington V-Discs are amazingly ambitious, including conceptual material which was not easily accessible, and certain important compositions that were never well-represented in the catalogs of his major labels. The most notable component of Disc One of this three-disc set is a live recording of two parts of "Black, Brown & Beige," done in late 1944 or early 1945, long after the piece's Carnegie Hall premiere. The postwar "Deep South Suite, Parts 1-4" occupies 20 minutes of the same disc, and is a far more topical and biting piece reflecting the lot of Black Americans in the South in the immediate aftermath of World War II. The concerto-like "New World A Comin' (Parts 1 and 2)" opens Disc Three with more of the man's brilliant playing, and depicts Ellington's band in full, lyrical flight; the only other extant version of this piece, incidentally, is on the MusicMaster Great Chicago Concert double-CD set. The other treats to be found here are the extended versions of pieces that never would have gone so long on any commercial release of the day. Apart from a few flawed sources, most of the material is in better than decent shape. The notes are virtually non-existent, which means that one must deduce a good deal of the personnel and dates.

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