Monday, October 19, 2009

Duke Ellington: Ellington Uptown (1952)

It really was my next acquisition after this. It just took me a while to write about it.

The music currently available as Ellingtown Uptown is: versions of "Skin Deep," "The Mooche," "Take The 'A' Train," "A Tone Parallel To Harlem (Harlem Suite)," "Perdido," and "The Controversial Suite," all recorded between December 1951 and July 1952, plus "The Liberian Suite," recorded in May/December 1947. All of this is happening in the early days of the lp record. "Liberian Suite" was released as a 10-inch lp in 1948, while "Skin Deep," "Mooche," "'A' Train," "Harlem Suite," and "Perdido" were released as a 10-inch lp in 1952. The latter was also issued in a 12-inch version that substituted "Controversial" for "Harlem Suite," if I understand it right.

So this is really music from two different periods, with considerable differences in the lineups. The Uptown material is mostly rerecordings of classic material, and it benefits from the new format. Ellington and his orchestra can stretch out and develop solos and themes more than they could on a 78. "Mooche" is six and a half minutes of hypnotic groove, while "A Train" nearly becomes a suite in its own right, with the addition of a vocal section courtesy of Betty Roche. "Skin Deep," meanwhile, gets to devote three minutes to one of the most explosive drum solos this side of Keith Moon. Really, nobody needs me to tell them how great Duke Ellington is. And this is great Duke Ellington. And it sounds great: still mono, but compare it to the prewar versions of these songs. Night and day.

"Liberian Suite" even lacks a little in the fidelity department compared to the later material. It's brilliant stuff, though. I guess I have to say I prefer the longer tympani solo in the LCJO version, and it's a sheer toss-up on the vocalists (Al Hibbler's creamy croon or Milt Grayson's stately recitation? they're both awesome). But listen to the violin-trumpet tango in "Dance No. 3." The little drum fills behind the vibraphone solo in "Dance No. 2." The way the horns blend everywhere.

Life is richer with Duke Ellington's music in it.

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