Saturday, July 21, 2007

1001 Albums Number 6

Duke Ellington - Ellington At Newport

I've decided I should start doing these a little faster, since at the rate I'm going it will take two hundred and fifty years for me to get through all of these. This one is a live album recorded in 1956, and it's release re-ignited the career of Ellington and his band after a long period of unjust obscurity.

This is my first explicit exposure to Ellington and indeed the first 'real' jazz album I've ever listened to properly (I don't think Fats Domino or Louie Prima really count). Even despite my limited knowledge of the genre I can readily appreciate The Duke's compositional skill, and the performers are every bit as talented as you'd expect from a world class jazz act, hitting that fine line where cool sophistication overlays frenzied passion. It's not as wild and intense as say Charles Mingus (and I'm really looking forward to getting into that kind of stuff soon), but if you're in the mood for a light, upbeat, swinging time then this is the album to get.

The original release of this album was actually (shockingly to my modern expectations) rerecorded in the studio because the tapes of the performance weren't loud enough. The reissue contains these recordings but also restores the originals, thank goodness. Ellington's presence as he introduces the songs is charming and evokes the idealised figure of the classic polite but suave jazz front man. The band members are given plenty of chances to show off their chops in solos, and their personalities really come through in their playing. The centrepiece of the album is an impassioned performance of 'Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue', in particular the bridge containing a twenty seven chorus solo by Paul Gonsalves which single handedly brought the sedate, seated, middle class audience roaring to their feet. To be honest I don't quite feel what made the performance so amazing (I prefer Sam Woodyard's drum solo on 'Skin Deep') but it's hard to argue with the crowd, who can be clearly heard yelling and screaming and generally going crazy in the background.

Nice stuff. I shall add Ellington to my very, very long list of artists to listen to more of.

Next up, more Sinatra. Groan...

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