Duke At His Very Best

For nylig udsendte det franske pladeselskab Frémeaux & Associés en boks med 4 CD’er med titlen Duke At His Very Best, med optagelser fra perioden 1940-42. Disse optagelser er blandt de mest kendte med Ellington overhovedet, så det er ikke interessant i sig selv. Musikken har været udsendt mange gange i forskellige indpakninger, fx på 3CD sættet The Blanton-Webster Band (Bluebird) fra 1986. Det som gør boksen interessant, er den usædvanligt gode lydkvalitet.

Lydtekniker Tony Baldwin skriver selv i booklet’en om hans tilgang til lyd-restaureringen: “For the present set I have used, where possible, multiple copies of the 78 rpm discs. I have applied a minimum of filtering and digital processing to the transfers, at the modest expense of a little surface noise and slight occasional distortion. The priority has been to convey the dynamic range and musicality of the Ellington orchestra.”

Resultatet er særdeles vellykket! Lyden er meget detaljeret og dynamisk, og de høje frekvenser bibeholdt. Den tilbageværende støj, som Baldwin omtaler, er minimal og forstyrrer ikke oplevelsen på nogen måde.

Samtlige numre fra det gamle Blanton-Webster sæt er medtaget (hvilket vil sige alle optagelser med det store orkesteret udgivet på RCA-Victor), men organiseret en smule anderledes. Sættet går kronologisk frem, men er delt op i to, således at CD 1-2 indeholder de såkaldte key works, mens CD 3 indeholder de mere kommercielle indspilninger.

Udover de 66 optagelser med det store orkesteret, er der også 28 optagelser med mindre grupper, heriblandt de 4 duetter med Ellington og bassisten Jimmy Blanton. CD 4 indeholder optagelser udgivet i Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard og Rex Stewart’s navn, typisk med 4 blæsere og rytmegruppe.

Duke Ellington Copenhagen 1958

Recently, the Danish record label Storyville released a new Duke Ellington CD: Copenhagen 1958, Bonus: After Hours 1950. The amount of Ellington releases they have produced over the last 25 years or so, is quite impressive. This new CD features music recorded at K.B.-Hallen in Copenhagen in 1958, as well as 5 bonus tracks recorded in Copenhagen and Aarhus in 1950. Only 4 tracks have been released before.

The 1950 bonus recordings are definitely the most interesting. First, three tunes recorded at a jam session at restaurant St. Thomas in Copenhagen, featuring Ellington along with Don Byas (ts) and Jimmy Hamilton (cl). Ellington starts out with a beautiful solo piano rendition of the old standard I Can’t Get Started – one of the best tracks on the CD; then Byas and Hamilton join’s him in a 10 minute version of Body and Soul. Interesting it is to note, how Ellington uses unexpected breaks in the music to get people to listen. It starts out as a ballad, and then goes into double tempo. The last jam session tune is the bebob’ish Ellington composition A Little Blues. This is the only recording of that composition as far as i know. The sound quality is surprisingly good.

Following are two great solo piano recordings made at Hammerschmidts Optagelses-Studio in Aarhus. The original record was pressed in only 10 copies, which were used as prizes in a lottery. First Sophisticated Lady and then Mood Indigo, which reminds me of the extended version he recorded with the band in December 1950 (issued on the album Masterpiece by Ellington). Two more pieces were recorded at the same session: I’m Afraid with Ellington on vocal, and I Met a Little Miss with Ellington’s Danish manager Ingvar Blicher-Hansen on vocal, but these aren’t included here.

The first 13 tracks on the album, comes from a concert at K.B.-Hallen in Copenhagen in 1958. Although i find the bonus material the most interesting, there are much to enjoy here as well. The uptempo Newport Up with Paul Gonsalves (t.sx), Jimmy Hamilton (cl) and Clark Terry (tpt). A beautiful rendition of My Funny Valentine arranged by Billy Strayhorn, and featuring Hamilton (cl) and Quentin Jackson (trb), as well as Britt Woodman (trb) and Ray Nance (cor). Johnny Hodges (a.sx) plays Prelude To a Kiss, again arranged by Strayhorn i believe. El Gato features all four trumpets. Interesting it is to observe their hugely different playing style. The last track is Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue with a very inspired solo på Paul Gonsalves.

My only complaint about this new release, is the sound quality on the 1958 material. Two tracks have been released previously on the CD: KB Hallen – Hall Of Fame (Stunt Records) with far superior fidelity, and it is unfortunately that Storyville haven’t had access to the same source material. This is no big issue. The main thing is the music of cause, and there is nearly 80 minutes of Ellington at his best. Highly recommended album!