Streamnotes: February 28, 2020


Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments, usually based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on January 31. Past reviews and more information are available here (14132+ records).


Recent Releases

Carol Albert: Stronger Now (2019 [2020], Cahara): Pianist, sings some, ranges from luxe piano to easy listening pap. B-

Lila Ammons: Genealogy (2019 [2020], Lila Ammons Music): Jazz singer, granddaughter of boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons, niece of saxophonist Gene Ammons. Songs here are mostly by jazz composers (Silver, Monk, Ellington. B+(**) [cd]

Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow: Life Goes On (2019 [2020], ECM): Piano/sax/electric bass trio, together 25 years, Bley the composer, past 80 now, her ear for melodies undiminished. Tasteful chamber jazz. B+(***)

Moses Boyd: Dark Matter (2020, Exodus): British drummer, best known for his jazz duo Binker Moses (with saxophonist Binker Golding), taps into electronica and grime as well as jazz. First solo album (or second if you count Moses Boyd Exodus). Range of material here, often not pitched as jazz, but sometimes the drummer can't help himself. B+(**)

The Coachella Valley Trio: Mid Century Modern (2019 [2020], DMAC): Guitarist Doug MacDonald, backed by bass and drums, with Big Black on djembe for 6/11 tracks. Four MacDonald originals, the rest easy flowing jazz standards. B+(*)

Frank Colón: Latin Lounge (2019 [2020], Technoprimal Music): Percussionist, born in DC, grew up in Puerto Rico, moved back to DC for college, and wound up in New York. Has a couple albums, dozens of side credits. Pleasing groove music, more substantial than the title suggests. Vocal bits don't help, but are few and widely scattered. B+(**)

Lara Driscoll: Woven Dreams (2019 [2020], Firm Roots Music): Pianist, from Chicago, trio with Paul Rushka on bass and Dave Laing on drums. Not much to say on this, other than that she always seems spot on. B+(***) [03-06]

Ellen Edwards: A New York Session (2019 [2020], Stonefire Music, EP): Singer-songwriter from Alabama, has a couple previous CDs, this one just five tracks, 20:20. Jazz band, best known are Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Jason Miles (B3, vibes, and synthesizers), none remarkable. B- [cd] [02-22]

John Ellis and Andy Bragen: The Ice Siren (2016 [2020], Parade Light): Commissioned piece, originally performed in 2009. Ellis plays tenor sax and clarinets. Bragen wrote the libretto -- yes, this is some kind of opera ("epic narrative song cycle"), sung by Miles Griffith and Gretchen Parlato, with guitar, tuba, percussion, and strings. Not so bad when you pay close attention, but . . . B [03-20]

Georgia: Seeking Thrills (2020, Domino): British, surname Barnes, father co-founded electropop group Leftfield, started as a drummer, added synthesizers, second album. Reminds me of Madonna, but the genius part hasn't kicked in yet. B+(***)

Holy Fuck: Deleter (2020, Last Gang): Electropop band from Toronto, fifth album since 2005. With a lot of guitar in the mix, they're sounding a lot like New Order these days (but the genius part hasn't kicked in yet). B+(***)

Kesha: High Road (2020, Kemosabe): Pop singer-songwriter Kesha Sebert, fourth studio album, has some edge. B+(*)

Kuzu [Dave Rempis/Tashi Dorji/Tyler Damon]: Purple Dark Opal (2019 [2020], Aerophonic): Avant sax-guitar-drums trio, did a couple albums last year including one that I belatedly got behind (Hiljaisus) and one (Lift to Drag) I missed. Maybe slow on this one too, but for now: B+(***) [cd]

Les Amazones D'Afrique: Amazones Power (2020, RealWorld): West African all-female supergroup, second album, after some shufflig the featured sigers: Mamani Keďta, Rokie Koné, and Niariu. B+(**)

Delfeayo Marsalis Uptown Jazz Orchestra: Jazz Party (2019 [2020], Troubadour Jass): The trombone player in the New Orlean family's band, tenth album since 1992, second with this big band, where everything's a jazz party. B+(**)

Valery Ponomarev Big Band: Live! Our Father Who Art Blakey: The Centennial (2019 [2020], Summit): Trumpet player, from Russia, moved to US in 1973, played with Art Blakey in the late 1970s. Big band, live tribute, songs from the Blakey (Silver, Shorter, Golson, "Caravan"). B

Purna Loka Ensemble: Metaraga (2018-19 [2020], Origin): Indian string quartet based in Lawrence, KS, where violinist Purnaprajna Bangere teaches mathematics and music. With second violin, bass, and tabla, with a guest spot for clarinet, rooted in classical Indian music, but not stuck there. B+(**) [cd]

Gil Scott-Heron: We're New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven (2010-19 [2020], XL): Started in 1970 speaking over jazz/funk beats, a decade before rap was recognized as such, fading away after 1982, with a 1994 album, then 2010's I'm New Here, remixed in 2011 by Jamie XX as We're New Here. I found both of those albums overly cryptic, and haven't given him much thought since his 2011 death. Now comes another remix, with Chicago drummer McCraven sharpening up the funk and adding depth to the blues. B+(**)

Mark Segger Sextet: Lift Off (2019 [2020], 18th Note): Toronto-based "avant-chamber-jazz group formed in 2008," not sure this isn't their first record, and short at that: 8 tracks, 28:54. The three horns (Jim Lewis on trumpet, Heather Saumer trombone, Peter Lutek reeds) trashes the chamber-jazz concept, as if the drummer wasn't enough. But his fractured time is free and fertile, and he has musicians who make good use of it. B+(***)

Sergi Sirvent Octopussy Cats: Flax-Golden Tales (2017 [2019], Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish pianist, impressed me early on but I lost track when the promos stopped coming. Octet, starts with a slow, lovely "Body and Soul," moves on to Shorter, Coltrane, Evans, Henderson, and Ellington, all richly textured. B+(**)

Dave Soldier: Zajal (2019 [2020], Mulatta): Plays guitar and keyboards here, violin and electronics elsewhere, seems closer to classical than to jazz although perhaps better thought of as a cosmopolitan ecclectic (one recent project involved an orchestra of elephants). He composed these pieces, adding lyrics in Arabic, Hebrew, Romance, and Farsi from Andalusia before the dark ages of the Spanish Inquisition. B+(*) [cd]

Tame Impala: The Slow Rush (2020, Interscope): Australian group, Kevin Parker the main guy, often touted as psychedelic (no idea what that means), fourth studio album, has beat, texture, atmosphere. For a while I thought I could hear what others must be hearing. Then I found I didn't care. B+(*)

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Rashied Ali Quitet: First Time Out: Live at Slugs 1967 (1967 [2020], Survival): Drummer, from Philadelhpia, originally Robert Patterson, joined John Coltrane in 1965, becoming the driving force for Coltrane's final avant phase. Ali didn't start releasing his own records until 1973, so this early tape is something of a find. With Dewey Johnson (trumpet), Ramon Morris (tenor sax), Stanley Cowell (piano), and Reggie Johnson (bass). Two long pieces, second has a strong section. [The 2-LP edition has extra tracks, not heard. Label also has a 2-LP Duo Exchange: Complete Sessions, by Ali and Frank Lowe from 1972, but the digital only has two tracks, 29:26; I gave the 1999 Knitting Factory reissue of Duo Exchange an A-.] B+(*)

Bryan Ferry: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 1974 (1974 [2020], BMG): Two albums in, the Roxy Music vocalist took a sidestep and released two albums of wry and ironic rock and roll covers (with one original, the Roxy-ish "Another Time, Another Place") that either one loathed or loved. I was in the latter camp, and counted one of his later shows among my all-time favorites. This concert was earlier, in between the two releases: 9 songs from his debut, 4 from the second, one more ("A Really Good Time" -- another Roxy Music song, unreleased at the time). Loses a bit of detail from the albums, and not enough presence to make up the deficit. B+(**)

Ronnie Lane: Just for a Moment: The Best of Ronnie Lane (1973-97 [2019], UMC): Started out in Small Faces, solo career never as famous as his bandmates although One for the Road (1976) was one of my favorite albums ever. This sampler was culled from a completist 6-CD box and favors breadth over depth, finding some gems but most seem minor compared to the two songs from his masterpiece. B+(***)

John Vanore: Primary Colors (1984-85 [2020], Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, played with Woody Herman in the 1980s, recently released a tribute to Oliver Nelson. This material is old, from impromptu sessions scattered over a year or more, with Ron Thomas on keyboards, an elemental postbop palette. B+(**) [cd]

Old Music

Cat Anderson and His Orchestra: Cat's in the Alley (1958-59 [2011], Fresh Sound): Trumpet player, joined Ellington in 1944, a virtuoso especially reknown for his spectacular high notes. This combines his first two solo albums, Cat on a Hot Tin Horn (a big swing band with long stretches of altissimo trumpet) and Ellingtonia (a septet with Budd Johnson on tenor sax and clarinet, and Ray Nance on violin). B+(***)

The "Cat" Anderson Orchestra: Cat on a Hot Tin Horn (1958, Mercury): In above. B+(***)

Cat Anderson and the Ellington All Stars: Ellingtonia (1959, Wynne): In above, but not as much Ellington as the cover suggests. B+(**)

Cat Anderson: Cat Speaks [The Defnitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1977 [2003], Black & Blue): Quintet, recorded in Paris, with Sam Woodyard (drums) from Ellingtonia, and locals on tenor sax/clarinet (Gérard Badini), piano (Raymond Fol), and bass (Michel Gaudry), with two uncredited vocals (probably Anderson). When in doubt, safe bet to play some blues. B+(***)

Cat Anderson: Plays WC Handy [The Defnitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1978 [1997], Black & Blue): More Ellington veterans here (Sam Woodyard, again, and lesser knowns: Harold Ashby, Aaron Bell, Norris Turney, Booty Wood) weaving a fine texture for these venerable blues stomps. A nice framework for Anderson to show off his chops, especially with the mute. A-

Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington: The Great Summit: The Master Takes (1961 [2000], Roulette): I've long owned the 1990 CD of The Complete Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington Sessions, so never bothered with this package: a new title with the same 17 cuts. Ellington plays piano, and wrote (or co-wrote) all the songs, Armstrong plays trumpet and sings, and brought the band: Trummy Young (trumpet), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Mort Herbert (bass), Danny Barcelona (drums) -- Bigard played with Ellington before joining Armstrong's All-Stars, and really stands out here. Armstrong amazes with his ability to slide his voice around such sophisticated melodies. A

Benny Bailey: In Sweden: 1957-1959 Sessions (1957-59 [2011], Fresh Sound): Trumpet player, from Cleveland, toured with Lionel Hampton and decided to stay in Europe, initially in Sweden where he recorded the four EPs and one LP collected here, later in the Netherlands, where he died in 2005. Mostly locals in the bands, listed on front cover: Arne Domnerus, Ake Person, Gösta Theselius, Joe Harris. B+(**)

Benny Bailey: Grand Slam (1978 [1998], Storyville): Hard bop quintet, recorded back in New York with Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), Richard Wyands (piano), Sam Jones (bass), and Billy Hart (drums). Keeps hitting harder. B+(***)

Josephine Baker: Breezin' Along [Art Deco Series] (1926-27 [1995], Columbia/Legacy): Born in 1906 in St. Louis, she kept the name of her second husband, divorced shortly before these early recordings, by which time she had appeared in vaudevile, in Broadway chorus lines and revues, and had made her first appearances in France (sometimes barely clad in a short skirt of bananas). She she became a huge star in France, a citizen, a hero of the anti-Nazi Resistance, and a civil rights crusader. B+(***)

Chris Barber's Jazz & Blues Band: Echoes of Ellington (1976 [2008], Timeless, 2CD): British trad jazz trombonist, started in 1954, slowed down when he hit 80, released this in two volumes, then as a 3-LP set in 1978, before it eventually got consolidated on 2-CD. Some stock Ellingtonia, but banjo and guitar are evident, and the leader has a taste for jungle music. B+(**)

Arne Domnérus: Dompan! (2000 [2001], Fresh Sound): Swedish alto saxophonist, also plays clarinet, a major figure since the 1940s. Title continues: recalls three major influences in his musical life . . . Ellington, Strayhorn, Hodges. Quartet, with Jan Lundgren (piano), Tom Warrington (bass), and Paul Kreibach (drums), playing twelve tunes, starting with "The Jeep Is Jumpin'." B+(***)

Duke Ellington: The Washingtonians (1924-26 [2019], Squatty Roo): Ellington's first band name, used briefly after he moved to New York from DC, abandoned when they settled into the Cotton Club in 1927. Fourteen very early tracks, an early ragtime influence, some backing corny singers. Would rate higher but for the surface wear ("Parlour Social Stomp" is one where the music wins out). B

Duke Ellington: The Best of Early Ellington (1926-31 [1996], Decca): Twenty songs from Decca's 3-CD Early Ellington: The Complete Brunswick and Vocalion Recordings of Duke Ellington 1926-1931, which appeared a couple years earlier and is worth owning complete (my grade: A+). Two caveats here: I've long deemed the Bluebirds from the same period to have better sound, not that I have any complaints here (and they're way better than the Okehs and the Classics archives); and I miss some of the covers on the box. Still, these are the essential songs from the first great Ellington era, and they're as perfect as music gets. A+

Duke Ellington: The Centennial Collection (1927-41 [2004], Bluebird): BMG released five volumes under this title, the others Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and Fats Waller -- all recorded for Bluebird before 1945, so these work as single-disc primers, each packaged with a DVD I have no reckoning of. Don't have dates, but initial recordings range as above, though most of these pieces are live shots, possibly tied to the DVD. Some great music here, but I don't find this to be particularly useful. B+(**)

Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn: Great Times! Piano Duets (1950 [1989], Riverside/OJC): The original eight tracks (25:30), with two pianos and bass, were released as a 10-inch LP in 1950. The CD adds two more tracks with Strayhorn switching to celesta, and two trio cuts with Ellington, Oscar Pettiford (cello), and Jo Jones (drums). B+(*)

Duke Ellington: Historically Speaking: The Duke (1956, Bethlehem): Ellington recorded two albums for Bethlehem in 1956. This is the first, twelve tracks (39:26), mostly fast takes on old classics. B+(*)

Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington Presents . . . (1956, Bethlehem): More from the same session, less clear what the concept is, the dangling ellipses going nowhere I can discern. Two vocals: Jimmy Grissom on "Everything but You" and Ray Nance on "I Can't Get Started," also a fine spot for his violin. Takes a turn toward the exquisite with "Day Dream." B+(**)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: A Drum Is a Woman (1956 [1957], Columbia): Billy Strayhorn co-wrote this attempted opera, where the book doesn't fit the music, and the music doesn't fit all that neatly together either. B-

Duke Ellington: At the Alhambra: Recorded in Paris, 1958 (1958 [2002], Pablo): After Noran Granz sold his Verve label interests to megacorp Universal, he started Pablo in 1973, recruiting many of his old favorites, starting with Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald. His third released was one of Ellington's last, Duke's Big 4. Later Pablo picked up several live tapes, including this one. This is basically the band he took to Newport in 1956, starting with "Take the 'A' Train," running through a medley of oldies, sliding into "Jeep's Blues," and widing up with an only slightly less rousing "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue." A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Featuring Paul Gonsalves (1962 [1991], Fantasy/OJC): Gonsalves, from Massachusetts, parents Cape Verdean, played tenor sax in the Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie big bands before replacing Ben Webster in Ellington's orchestra in 1950. He emerged as a star with his astonishing 27-chorus solo in 1956 at Newport, and remained with the band until he died in 1974, a few days before Ellington's death. This was a free-wheeling blowing session, eight group standards starting with "C-Jam Blues," not necessarily designed to feature tenor sax but in the free-for-all Gonsalves often winds up on top. Sat in the vaults until 1985, when someone realized it filled a niche -- or just wanted a reminder of how hard Ellington could swing. A-

Duke Ellington: The Duke: The Essential Collection: 1927-1962 (1927-62 [2000], Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): Released as a tall box in 1999 on the occasional of his centennial, with the more accurate title The Columbia Years, given more sensible packaging here. The discs break up into three discontinuous stretches: 1927-40, 1947-52, and 1956-62. Ellington always kept several labels going, although RCA seemed to get the best eras -- the best takes from 1927-30 (although the Deccas are nearly as good, the Okehs sampled here and available on a 2-CD set, The Okeh Ellington, coming in third); The Blanton-Webster Band of 1939-42 and the "small groups" of the same period; late masterpieces like The Far East Suite (1966) and And His Mother Called Him Bill (1967) -- but Columbia's two stretches in the 1950s includes a few supreme records: Uptown (1947-52), At Newport (1956), Blues in Orbit (1958-59). Columbia also seems to have control of much of Ellington's neglected 1930s work, but has kept them out of print (except for European bootlegs, Mosaic's 11-CD 2010 box, and rare samples on Columbia anthologies like this one). The main value here is a first disc that starts to show off this long-neglected oeuvre. The later discs are full of gems, but a same size RCA compilation would blow them all away. A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: The Great Paris Concert (1963 [1973], Atlantic, 2CD): Three concerts, actually, nicely organized for its original 2-LP release (total 87:35), so much so it might serve as a suitable introductory overview for neophytes -- even includes a full suite, and one vocal track to remind you Ellington never had a knack for hiring singers. Even more freakish is Cat Anderson's stratospheric trumpet -- one of many wonders. A-

Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington's My People (1963 [1964], Contact): A short-lived Broadway musical, "conceived, written and staged by Duke Ellington," orchestra conducted by Jimmy Jones (but "under the personal supervision of Billy Strayhorn"), headlined by Joya Sherrill. Ellington tended to get stilted in projects that aimed beyond the music (e.g., his later "sacred music" concerts), but this one moves right along, and his black history points are well taken. B+(**)

Duke Ellington: In the Uncommon Market (1963 [1986], Pablo): From one of the band's European tours, scant details on where or when. The band tracks have some terrific moments, especially Paul Gonsalves in "E.S.P." Ends wtih some rather funky piano trio. B+(***)

Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington's Concert of Sacred Music (1965 [1966], RCA): Ellington called this "the most important thing I have ever done." I never saw the point, but after the overwrought intro ("In the Beginning God" for 19:36), this has a few moments, not least the tap dance. B+(*)

Duke Ellington: Soul Call (1966 [1999], Verve): A live set from Juan-Les-Pins in France, originally released in 1967 (5 tracks, 37:50), expanded to 14 tracks (74:44) for the Verve Master Edition reissue. The original album, still up front, picked out the new music, with two 12-14-minute pieces ("La Plus Belle Africaine" and "Skip Deep"). The extras recycle the songbook. B+(**)

Duke Ellington/Boston Pops/Arthur Fiedler: The Duke at Tanglewood (1966, RCA Victor Red Seal): In the late 1940s, Ellington started writing longer works ("suites"), and started to gain acclaim as America's greatest composer, as jazz started to be touted as "America's classical music." So it was inevitable that some classical music orchestra would invite Ellington to sit in on a program of his tunes fleshed out with strings and tympani. And you could probably have guessed it would be the Pops, their live concert appearing on RCA's classical music imprint. I'm surprised it works so well, but in retrospect that, too, seems inevitable. B+(**)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: The Popular Duke Ellington (1966 [1967], RCA Victor): Ten old songs (1927-1944), most recorded hundreds (or even thousands) of times (I think I once decided that "Mood Indigo" was the most covered popular song ever), plus one ("The Twitch" that seems to have originated here. One generally frowns on re-recording your old hits, but the march of technology and the evolution of the band make this an exception. A-

Duke Ellington: Solos, Duets and Trios (1932-67 [1990], RCA Bluebird): Isolated solos both early and late, but most come from the 1940s, centering on a batch of 1940 duets with ill-fated bassist Ray Blanton (9 takes of 4 songs). Duke's a pretty good stride pianist, but this is a mixed bag. Still, the Blanton tracks are pretty amazing. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Berlin '65/Paris '67 (1965-67 [1997], Pablo): Previously unreleased concert performances, released as part of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic series. Several marvelous pieces from The Far East Suite, as well as old standards. B+(***)

Duke Ellington/Ella Fitzgerald/Oscar Peterson: The Greatest Jazz Concert in the World (1967 [1990], Pablo, 3CD): The CD reissue added the principle artist's names above the title, a banner missing from the original 1975 4-LP box, although their primacy was made clear by centering their portraits, surrounded by an outer ring with Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, T-Bone Walker, and eight current members of Ellington's Orchestra. This was one of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic productions, actually two shows, one in March at Carnegie Hall, the other in July at the Hollywood Bowl, varying from his usual all-star jam formula mostly in Ellington's dominance: 21 cuts, including 5 with Fitzgerald (of her 9). I'm on the fence here: Peterson's intro and the jams are fun, the Ellington set is above par, and Fitzgerald has a spark here that is never really captured in their studio albums. Still, doesn't really merit the hyperbole. B+(***)

Duke Ellington: 1969 All-Star White House Tribute to Duke Ellington (1969 [2002], Blue Note): Sixteen names on the cover, but Ellington was not only the subject here; he was listed first among the contributors. My contempt for Richard Nixon is almost boundless, but he played a little piano, and must have been overjoyed to be able to sit down and tinkle the ivories alongside the Duke. The occasion was Ellington's 70th birthday, and Nixon's gift was a Presidential Medal of Freedom. The West Wing party rolled on to 3 AM, the long list of names contributing (although I don't have song-by-song credits) -- a few Ellington alumni like Clark Terry and Louis Bellson (but not the Orchestra), plus stars like Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan, JJ Johnson, Hank Jones, Jim Hall, and Joe Williams. B+(***)

Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington's 70th Birthday Concert (1969 [1995], Blue Note, 2CD): Actually two concerts from a tour in the UK, about seven months after his 70th birthday (Nov. 25-26 vs. Apr. 29), originally released in 1970 by Solid State in the US and United Artists elsewhere. Still loving you madly. B+(***)

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: Up in Duke's Workshop (1969-72 [1990], Pablo/OJC): Nine tracks from nine dates, with groups ranging from 5 to 12 musicians, first released by Pablo in 1979. No titles I recognize here, but the melodies remind me of his last wave of great albums. Wild Bill Davis on organ is a special treat. A-

Duke Ellington: In Sweden 1973 (1973 [1999], Caprice): Late, the fabulous orchestra starting to fall apart (no Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Cat Anderson), so local reinforcements are welcome: Rolf Ericson (trumpet), Ĺke Persson (trombone), Nils Lindberg, and featured singer Alice Babs. B+(**)

Duke Ellington: Duke's Big 4 (1973 [1974], Pablo): One of his last albums, the first actually released by Norman Granz's Pablo (which later picked up a fair amount of archive material). Quartet with Joe Pass (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Louie Bellson (drums). Kind of lightweight, but Pass always liked it airy. B+(**)

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection (1956-72 [1989], Saja, 10CD): Previously unreleased tapes from the family vault, some live, most studio, released by LMR or its successor Saja 1987-89, and later reissued by Kaz. I picked up several of the Saja discs back in the day, graded them as follows, and jumped at the opportunity to hear more on Napster:

  • Volume One: Studio Sessions, Chicago, 1956 (1956 [1987], Saja): A-
  • Volume Three: Studio Sessions, New York (1962 [1988], Saja): B+
  • Volume Four: Studio Sessions, New ork, 1963 (1963 [1988], Saja): B+
  • Volume Five: The Suites, New York, 1968 & 1970 (1968-70 [1988], Saja): A-
  • Volume Nine: Studio Sessions, New York, 1968 (1968 [1989], Saja): B+

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection, Volume Two: Dance Concerts, California, 1958 (1958 [1987], Saja): Ellington responded to the eclipse of the big band era by trying his hand at fancier things (suites and such), but still played the occasional dance hall, trotting out his hits, and they're having a good time here. Ozzie Bailey sings a couple, and they're just fine. A-

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection, Volume Six: Dance Dates, California, 1958 (1958 [1989], Saja): The brassy dance numbers from the start don't seem like anything special, but they get a lot more interesting at/after the break, when they slow it down (e.g., "Mood Indigo"). B+(***)

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection, Volume Seven: Studio Sessions, 1957 & 1962 (1957-62 [1989], Saja): The big band is in fine form here, especially on their classics, most notably a rousing new "Cottontail." B+(***)

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection, Volume Eight: Studio Sessions, 1957, 1965, 1966, 1967, San Francisco, Chicago, New York (1957-67 [1989], Saja): B+(**)

Duke Ellington: The Chronological Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (1924-1953, Classics): A French label which has been picking off American jazz titles as they clear Europe's 50-year copyright law -- although they slowed down after 2000, and haven't released anything since 2008. They've usually digitized well-worn copies, so the sound often leaves much to be desired. Napster lists some of these titles as Reborn Records, using modified artwork. One presumes they've undergone further noise reduction, but I can't say definitively. For Ellington, these start with 1924-1927 and extend to 1953 (44 CDs). I've previously heard and rated:

  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1937 (1937, Classics) B+
  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1937, Vol. 2 (1937, Classics) A-

I hoped to catch up everything to 1940, but couldn't find 1924-1927 (Classics 539), 1935-1936 (659), 1938-1939 (747), or 1939 Vol. 2 (780). I tried to get by with a single play per CD, which made it hard to make fine distinctions -- not that there were many to make. Most critics consider 1927-1930 and 1940-1942 to be golden periods, and they're certainly peaks, but there are no slough periods. The main complaints I had were surface noise and the arbitrariness of the chronological sequencing, with small groups and backup jobs for vocal groups thrown into the mix. From 1940 on, the Classics series is less useful, as Ellington's studio recordings have been kept reliably in print by RCA (in two 3-CD sets) and later labels. Perhaps I'll check out those compilations later, but for now 1940 seemed like a good cut-off point.

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1927-1928 (1927-28 [1990], Classics): This is where Ellington hits his stride, coining such classics as "East St. Louis Toodoe-Oo" and "Jubilee Stomp." The only downsides are redundancy and surface noise -- endemic to this whole series. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1928 (1928 [1990], Classics): With Johnny Hodges, he's really developing a consistent sound, despite billing various groups, like Lonnie Johnson's Harlem Footwarmers. Obviously, the big one here is "The Mooche," with four takes. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1928-1929 (1928-29 [1990], Classics): A prime period, with Bubber Miley on trumpet and Barney Bigard or Johnny Hodges on clarinet, everything bright and cheery, from "Tiger Rag" to "Flaming Youth" to "Diga Diga Doo," even "Rent Party Blues." A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1929 (1929 [1991], Classics): A hot band starting to swing, still on their jungle thing, the one disturbing thing is "A Nite at the Cotton Club," where the announcer insists on calling him "Dukey." B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1929-1930 (1929-30 [1991], Classics): Sixth volume, starts with "Jungle Jamboree," with three later songs attributed to The Jungle Band, nine more to Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra. Dancefloor singles, close to 3:00 each, many terrific, sound so-so. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1930 (1930 [1991], Classics): While Bubber Miley defined Ellington's 1927-29 band, he is hardly missed here, with Cootie Williams taking over on trumpet, and the saxophones and trombones gaining stature. Some remakes of classics (especially "The Mooche"), everything first rate. A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1930, Volume 2 (1930 [1991], Classics): A big year for Ellington, recording as the Jungle Band, the Harlem Footwarmers, and Mills' Ten Black Berries as well as under his own name. Mostly upbeat stompers, including three takes of "Ring Dem Bells," but also a gorgeous little piece initially called "Dreamy Blues" -- you know it as "Mood Indigo." A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1930-1931 (1930-31 [1991], Classics): Another good run but more than the usual redundancy, with three takes of "Rockin' in Rhythm," more "Creole Rhapsody" and "Mood Indigo," and forgettable vocals by Billy Sith, Sid Garry, Chick Bullock, and others I've already forgotten. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1931-1932 (1931-32 [1991], Classics): Starts with the band backing Earl Jackson on "Is That Religion?" -- then resets the mood with two helpings of "Creole Rapsody." Three-minute singles predominate, but you also get two 7-minute medleys of signature pieces, and a first release of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1932-1933 (1932-33 1992], Classics): Leans more toward vocal pieces, with Adelaide Hall, the Mills Brothers' "Diga Diga Doo" a hit, Ray Mitchell's vocal on "Star" very touching, Ethel Waters as fine as you'd expect. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1933 (1933 [1992], Classics): Two takes of "Sophisticated Lady," which first appeared the year before, plus a lot of upbeat fare, including a rousing "Ain't Misbehavin'." Also an interview snippet, apparently from a UK tour. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1933-1935 (1933-35 [1992], Classics): Most famous new song here is "Solitude"; least may be "Rude Interlude" -- in the previous interview he mentiond wanting to write a "Rude" song after someone misheard his recent his as "Rude Indigo." More vocals than usual: Louis Bacon (2), Ivie Anderson (3), Mae West. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1936-1937 (1936-37 [1992], Classics): Starts with Ivie Anderson singing. Ben Webster joins on a couple of dates. The big band swings, but the Barney Bigard small group, (7-pieces, with Ellington on piano) is even hotter. Two cuts are piano solos, and the mix of "Mood Indigo and Solitude" is especially delectable. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1938 (1938 [1993], Classics): More than half of the 23 cuts come from "small groups" led by Barney Bigard, Cootie Williams, or Johnny Hodges ("Jeep's Blues"). Hodges get the vocal version of "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart", but the band's instrumental is even better. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1938 Vol. 2 (1938 [1993], Classics): Again, half "small groups" (Cootie Williams, Johnny Hodges), the rest by His Famous Orchestra, half with vocals, most often Ivie Anderson, bringing the superb instrumentals back to earth. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1938 Vol. 3 (1938 [1993], Classics): Ellington recorded more in 1938 than any year since 1930 (probably to date), at least if you count the Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges small groups (10 of 22 cuts here). Hodges is superb here, especially on his own cuts ("The Jeep Is Jumpin'," "Hodge Podge," "Wanderlust"). A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1939 (1939 [1994], Classics): Another very productive year, this covering March to June, with superb small groups led by Bigard and Hodges and a date backing a vocal group, the Quintones, on a couple of novelty numbers. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1939-1940 (1939-40 [1993], Classics): From October to February, only seven tracks with His Famous Orchestra, most of the rest small groups led by Barney Bigard and Cootie Williams, plus a bit of solo piano and two duets with new bassist Jimmy Blanton. Ben Webster rejoins in February, kicking off Ellington's most legendary band. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1950 (1950 [2001], Classics): Starts with Billy Strayhorn Trio -- Ellington on second piano with Wendell Marshall on bass, the cuts now known as Great Times!, with two bits from Wild Bill Davis and His Real Gone Organ (a trio with Johnny Collins on guitar and Jo Jones on drums, one song by Ellington but not clear they belong here). Orchestra appears on second half, with an Al Hibbler vocal on "Build That Railroad," and two longer pieces better sampled on Masterpieces by Ellington. B+(**)

Ella Fitzgerald: The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books (1956-64 [1993], 16CD): One of Norman Granz's more successful "get rich slow" projects was having Ella sing every song in "the great American songbook" -- I suspect that phrase came later, and were you to look it up, the most succinct definition would be: "songs Ella Fitzgerald sang." They were released on many LPs, eventually collected in this box, as well as released on separately available CD sets. I bought the box, gave it an A- (my standard at the time for multi-disc boxes was weakest link), but didn't break it down further. Maybe it's time to do that.

Ella Fitzgerald: Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook (1956-57 [1991], Verve, 3CD): Key thing here is the band: Ellington and His Orchestra. They got co-credit on the origial 1957 4-LP set, before "songbook" became a single word and a Fitzgerald trademark. She is, of course, miles ahead of any singer Ellington ever hired, adding import and sass to lyrics that often just an afterthought -- but that may be because the band never really needed them. Two real solid CDs here, although I like some of their later live recordings even better. Third disc bogs down a lot, and not just the alternate takes and chatter. B+(**)

Ella Fitzgerald: The Very Best of the Duke Ellington Song Book (1956-57 [2007], Verve): Second attempt at reducing the original 4-LP (3-CD) set to a single CD, following 1995's Day Dream: The Best of the Duke Ellington Songbook (B+, long ago), the "very" justified by reduction (12 tracks, 56:09, vs. 17 tracks, 70:08) and by picking more obvious titles: only 5 tracks appear on both, and you can easily guess them if I give you the adds here: "Sophisticated Lady," "Satin Doll," "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me," "Prelude to a Kiss," "In a Sentimental Mood," "Caravan," and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." Should be foolproof, but you can hardly hear the band through the ballads, and while the singer is artful enough, you just know she'd rather bust loose and scat. B+(***)

Ella Fitzgerald: Ella at Duke's Place (1965 [1966], Verve): Studio date in Hollywood with Ellington and His Orchestra, ten songs, only two repeated from the 1956-57 sessions. Divided into a "Pretty, Lovely, Tender, Hold Me Close Side" and a "Finger-Snapping, Head Shaking, Toe-Tapping, Go-For-Yourself Side" -- the latter is more fun, but still not as much as a live set like Ella and Duke at the Côte D'Azur (1966). B+(**)

Paul Gonsalves/Harry Carney/Mitchell "Booty" Wood: Stanley Dance Presents the Music of the Great Ellingtonians (1960-61 [2008], Fresh Sound, 2CD): Combines three albums produced by Dance: Harry Carney: The Duke's Men; The Booty Wood Allstars: Hang In There; and Paul Gonsalves/Harold Ashby: Tenor Stuff. The leaders were moonlighting from Ellington's Orchestra (Wood, by far the least famous, played trombone). Only bassist Aaron Bell is on all three. Carney's nonet is the most Ellingtonian, with both Gonsalves and Wood, as well as Ray Nance and Sam Woodyard. Woods' album includes Johnny Hodges (listed as Cue Porter). B+(**)

Al Haig/Jamil Nasser Combo: Expressly Ellington (1978 [1979], Spotlite): Piano/bass leaders, with Art Themen (tenor saxophone) and Tony Mann (drums), keeps it lovely and elegant. B+(***)

Coleman Hawkins and His All-Stars: The Complete Jazztone Recordings 1954 (1954 [2010], Fresh Sound): Twelve pieces -- I have 11 of them on the 1987 Xanadu CD Jazz Tones -- half quartet tracks with Billy Taylor (piano), Milt Hinton (bass), and Jo Jones (drums), the other half add trumpet (Emmett Berry) and trombone (Eddie Bert). Nice set of standards, a bit light. B+(***)

Earl Hines/Jonah Jones/Buddy Tate/Cozy Cole: Back on the Street (1972, Chiaroscuro): Normally I only list the names above the title, and indeed Hines/Jones (piano/trumpet) look to be slightly more equal than the other cover names -- they co-wrote the two originals -- but the others (tenor sax/drums) are comparable stars, and take stellar turns. As do the lesser names left off the cover: John Brown (bass) and, especially, Jerome Darr (guitar) -- the latter's solo on "Pennies From Heaven" stands out, in part because the bass comping behind it is spot on. A-

Jonah Jones: 1936-1945 (1936-45 [1997], Classics): Trumpet player, from Louisville, got his start on a riverboat, played in big bands from 1928 (Horace Henderson) through the 1940s (Stuff Smith, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter, Cab Calloway). This starts with six tracks backing singer Ray Porter, and includes four tracks from Milt Hinton & His Orchestra as well as two sets of four from Jones-led groups. B+(**)

Jonah Jones: Confessin' [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1978 [1999], Black & Blue): Recorded in Paris, with Andre Persiani (piano), Major Holley (bass), and JC Heard (drums). Some blues, some Ellington, a "Sheik of Araby." Presummably the vocals are Jones' -- good enough, his trumpet even better. B+(***)

Don Redman and His Orchestra Featuring Coleman Hawkins: At the Swing Cats Ball (1957 [2005], Fresh Sound): Redman played clarinet and alto sax for Fletcher Henderson, left in 1927 to become music director of McKinney's Cotton Pickers, and led his own Orchestra from 1931-1940. He remained active until his death in 1964, but has little to show for his post-WWII years. This combines two big band sets that were distributed to broadcasters but not for sale. Melvin Moore sings a couple. Neither retro nor modern, a slick in-between. B+(*)

Nina Simone: Nina Simone Sings Duke Ellington (1961 [1962], Colpix): Simone's arrangements, produced by Stu Phillips, backed by the Malcolm Dodds Singers, no credits for the band (but Simone no doubt holds court on piano). The obscurities don't stick with you, but the mainstays are tastefully done (especially "Satin Doll"). B+(*)

Zoot Sims: Passion Flower: Zoot Sims Plays Duke Ellington (1979-80 [1997], Pablo/OJC): Tenor saxophonist, sources list him only as leader but this sounds like him, in front of a big band with stars like JJ Johnson, Frank Wess, and Jimmy Rowles, arranged and conducted by Benny Carter. B+(**)

Sarah Vaughan: How Long Has This Been Going On? (1978, Pablo): Despite her remarkable voice and exquisite control of nuance, she rarely makes albums I like. But Norman Granz grabbed her when he launched Pablo, and teamed her up with his default band: Oscar Peterson (piano), Joe Pass (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Louie Bellson (drums). Cover inserts a spurious "between" between the title and artists -- the singer first in only slightly larger type. Still likes them slow, but the band's light touch saves the day. B+(***)

Sarah Vaughan: Duke Ellington: Song Book One (1979 [1980], Pablo): Billy Byers' strings are suspect here, but the rest of the band -- with Waymon Reed on trumpet, JJ Johnson on trombone, Frank Foster and Zoot Sims on tenor sax, Bucky Pizzarelli or Joe Pass on guitar, Jimmy Rowles or Mike Wofford on piano -- is impeccable. B+(***)

Sarah Vaughan; Duke Ellington: Song Book Two (1979 [1980], Pablo): Same group, same sessions, eleven more songs, most excellent, only a tad less impressive. B+(**)

Vienna Art Orchestra: Duke Ellington's Sound of Love, Vol. 2: Live at Porgy & Bess, Vienna (2003, EmArcy): Big band, founded by Mathias Rüegg in 1977, originally to play his own postmodernist compositions, but over the years they've delved into a wide range of jazz and classical composers, adding their own distinctively avant touches. Their previous Ellington volume came out in 2000. Highpoint here is a "Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue" that's messier than the Newport version but every bit as exciting (although no one dares go after Cat Anderson's high notes). A-

Ben Webster: Plays Duke Ellington (1967-71 [2002], Storyville): Tenor saxophonist, played with Bennie Moten in 1932, moved to New York and played occasionally with Ellington from 1935, becoming a regular 1940-43, and he kept some of his major pieces in his songbook (especially "Cottontail"). This isn't a tribute, but was stitched together from several sessions, mostly fast jams but also a gorgeous "Satin Doll," and closes with a strong blues vocal (not sure who). A-

The World's Greatest Jazz Band of Yank Lawson & Bob Haggart: Plays Duke Ellington (1973 [1999], Jazzology): Later album cover has been rejiggered to further confuse, but this is how the 1976 origial and 1999 reissue appeared, and how the band was usually credited during its 1968-78 active period (occasionally resurrected until Lawson died in 1995). A long list of notable musicians passed through the band. At this point they were a nonet, but Billy Butterfield joining on trumpet, Phil Bodner on clarinet, Al Klink on sax, George Masso and Sonny Russo on trombone, John Bunch on piano, and Bobby Rosengarden on drums. Not as flashy as their boast suggests, but a graceful repertoire band, the extra trombone palpable. B+(***)

Revised Grades

Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:


Additional Consumer News:

Previous grades on artists in the old music section.

Music Weeks

Current count 32248 [32156] rated (+92), 224 [219] unrated (+5).

Excerpts from this month's Music List posts:

Notes

Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd
  • [cdr] based on an advance or promo cd or cdr
  • [dvd] based on physical dvd (rated more for music than video)
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [sc] available at soundcloud.com
  • [sp] available at spotify.com
  • [yt] available at youtube.com
  • [os] some other stream source
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, may be a bootleg someone made available, or may be a publicist promo