Saturday, November 8, 2008

Duke Ellington: Rockin' In Rhythm

The Tanuki doesn't usually write about jazz, because he doesn't know how to write about jazz. He likes jazz, but doesn't have enough music theory to listen to it intelligently, much less write about it: he approaches it like Faulkner's illiterate preacher does the Bible - with faith.

But here's a moment of genius. Duke Ellington's 1930 recording of "Rockin' In Rhythm" (released under the pseudonym The Harlem Footwarmers - sweet!). If you can handle ram files, you can hear it here; youtube has lots of different versions of it, but not the original, and later versions seem to be taken at a faster tempo. The original swings along at this nice easy pace like fingers walking up your shoulder to tickle you behind the ear.

The genius bit - the whole thing's genius, of course, but the bit I'm talking about - is the unison theme that starts the whole thing off. Yes it's an exquisite sound, a perfect blend of saxes and clarinets, with a little dirty trumpet adding a remark here and there. And that's genius. And yes the rhythm here is bite-your-lip sensual, bass, banjo, and funky drums all scooching it along like a pat on the ass. And that's genius too.

But dig this: the figure at the end of the theme. The unison line goes up, up, hits its sweet spot, then does this eight-note descending thing to bring us down into the solo spots. But what's genius is, you think it's done after those two bars, and then they keep descending for another two bars, softer.

That's the stuff.

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