So this release makes me want to take back some of the sanguine things I said about the LCJO in my review of They Came To Swing. This is a pleasant enough record, but I don't see much argument for its existence. LCJO had already done Ellington once. That was a satisfying disc, and a good starting point for a recording program by this outfit. But the direction their next two discs took was a promising one, mixing jazz from many (not quite all) eras together, demonstrating their credo that "all jazz is modern," making Monk and Coltrane rub shoulders with Jelly Roll Morton and Dizzy Gillespie and the Duke. But a few years later, here they are releasing another all-Ellington album. Why?
It's a pleasant enough disc, as I say. Good, polished renditions, with some very nice moments here and there, such as the last number, "Portrait Of Louis Armstrong," where Marsalis's delta-dragging trumpet is juxtaposed against some very McCoy Tyner-ish playing by pianist Cyrus Chestnut.
But on the whole the disc is just not as eye-opening as the first, because it doesn't try as hard to revive obscure, epic, late Ellington. A lot of the selections are pretty standard. And yes, I realize this began as a PBS project, not a full-scale recording project. But still...
No, no "but still." I think the PBS connection is probably the clue. The "Great Performances" episode this documents was 1999; "Ken Burns' Jazz" was just around the corner. It's hard not to hear this as part of a reactionary turn. A shrinking of at least the recording side of the LCJO's sense of mission - a shrinking of the outfit's conception of what jazz is.