Direct from Ellington’s own ‘stockpile’ of recordings comes this set of fifteen numbers first released on MusicMasters in 1991 and now reissued on Nimbus. The earliest items come from March 1965 and the last from August 1972. There were a variety of recording locations; Chicago, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles but also Milan in the case of two songs. So the geographical and temporal spread is quite extensive.
We start with a rocking The Old Circus Train which features Jimmy Hamilton on tenor, wailingly imbued with the raw spirit of Ben Webster. A typically Ducal piano introduction starts Swamp Goo after which we’re treated to a clarinet feature for the clarinet of Russell Procope, behind which stalks the ghost of Barney Bigard. The band still sported its legendary personalities such as Hodges, Carney and Cat Anderson in the earlier numbers. It was Anderson in fact who wrote Trombone Buster for the ‘bone player Buster Cooper, whose lusty, ultra-virile playing leaps out at one. Norris Turney tends to be underestimated these days, but he takes a fine flute solo on Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies which comes from the New Orleans Suite.
It’s always good to hear Duke in the proximity of just one other musician; as an accompanist he was a masterful provoker rhythmically and harmonically speaking. Unfortunately he had inexplicably awful taste in male singers and here he coaxes the über-maudlin Tony Watkins through To Know You Is to Love You, an experience best glossed over in sympathetic silence. Read both words of Naidni Remmus backwards and you’ve arrived at its title: Wild Bill Davis is on organ, Turney on flute again, whilst Paul Gonsalves is able to stretch out in his solo. Cat Anderson hits the heights in every way except artistically in The Prowling Cat before he deigns to take an appropriately hot solo to redeem himself.
Another member of the brass section, Fred Stone, wrote Maiera in which he himself plays the flugelhorn and Turney comes on with some excitable alto. I’ve never been convinced by Rufus Jones, the Duke’s drummer in the 1970 tracks, and his work on Thanks for the Beautiful Land is less than subtle. Thankfully Harold Ashby’s tenor solo is another elevated example of Websterianism still at work in the Duke’s sax section. Cootie Williams, regrettably undermiked on Portrait of Louis Armstrong (again from the New Orleans Suite), still plays with fat tone and panache.
This is certainly not as important an offering as the Cornell 1948 set – the band in full cry – or the earlier Chicago or London and New York sets, all of which have been already covered by Nimbus. This particular selection is invariably variable, but it does have some documentary force.
Jonathan Woolf, Musicweb-international.com