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Jazz - Released January 1, 2002 | Blue Note Records

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Duke Ellington surprised the jazz world in 1962 with his historic trio session featuring Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Not in a mood to simply rework older compositions, the bulk of the LP focused on music he wrote specifically for the session. "Money Jungle" is a thunderous opener, a blues that might be classified somewhere between post-bop and avant-garde. The gem of the date is the fragile, somewhat haunting ballad "Fleurette Africaine," where Mingus' floating bassline and Roach's understated drumming add to the mystique of an Ellington work that has slowly been gathering steam among jazz musicians as a piece worth exploring more often. "Very Special" is a jaunty upbeat blues, while the angular, descending line of "Wig Wise" also proves to be quite catchy. Ellington also revisits "Warm Valley" (a lovely ballad indelibly associated with Johnny Hodges) and an almost meditative "Solitude." Thunderous percussion and wild basslines complement a wilder-than-usual approach to "Caravan." Every jazz fan should own a copy of this sensational recording session. © Ken Dryden /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2014 | Verve Reissues

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Jazz - Released July 6, 1987 | Columbia Jazz Masterpieces

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This most unusual Duke Ellington record includes two selections featuring nine symphonic percussionists on timpani, vibes, marimbas, and xylophones. Dizzy Gillespie makes a historic appearance with Ellington's orchestra on "U.M.M.G." (a meeting that should have been repeated often but sadly never was), Jimmy Rushing (Count Basie's former vocalist) sings "Hello Little Girl," and both Johnny Hodges ("All of Me") and Paul Gonsalves ("Ready Go!") have chances to blow. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2014 | Verve Reissues

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Jazz - Released February 10, 2017 | Columbia - Legacy

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Jazz - Released July 27, 2004 | Columbia - Legacy

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
Blues in Orbit lacks the intellectual cache of the suites and concept pieces that loomed large in Ellington's recordings of this period, but it's an album worth tracking down, if only to hear the band run through a lighter side of its sound -- indeed, it captures the essence of a late-night recording date that was as much a loose jam as a formal studio date, balancing the spontaneity of the former and the technical polish of the latter. Ellington and company were just back from a European tour when the bulk of this album was recorded at one after-midnight session in New York on December 2, 1959 -- the arrangements had to be hastily written out when the copyist failed to appear for the gig. So on the one hand, the band was kicking back with these shorter pieces; on the other, the group was also improvising freely and intensely at various points. The title track, recorded more than a year before most of the rest, is a slow blues that puts Ellington's piano into a call-and-response setting with the horns, with Ellington getting in the last word. "Villes Ville Is the Place, Man" is a bracing, beat-driven jaunt, highlighted by solos featuring Ray Nance, Harry Carney, and Johnny Hodges on trumpet, baritone sax, and alto, respectively. "Three J's Blues" shows off composer Jimmy Hamilton playing some earthy tenor sax in a swinging, exuberant blues setting. "Smada" features Billy Strayhorn on piano and Johnny Hodges on alto, in a stirring dance number, and "Pie Eye's Blues" is a hot studio improvisation featuring Ray Nance and Jimmy Hamilton trading three solos each. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 1, 2003 | RCA Bluebird

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band, covering the years 1939-1942 in the great composer and bandleader's career, is essentially the third time that RCA has issued this material on CD. The first was a botched job, appalling even, with its flattened-out, compressed sound, along with a chopped version of "Take the A-Train" and other sonic and editorial errors. The second version was completely remastered and corrected the editorial problems, but featured no alternate takes from the band's performances. Beyond the original 66 tracks, nine additional cuts are featured here, including four brand-new master-take issues of "Another Pitter Patter," "Body and Soul," "Sophisticated Lady," and "Mr. J.B. Blues," as well as alternate takes of "Ko-Ko," "Bojangles," "Sepia Panorama," "Jumpin' Punkins," and "Jump for Joy." All of this material is available on RCA's Complete Duke Ellington and in bits and pieces on imports, but these tracks make this set feel much more complete as a document of Ellington's greatest band. The interplay between Jimmy Blanton's bass, which stood completely out front with its fat, rounded tone -- a revolutionary thing in a big band in those days -- and Ben Webster's shimmering, soulful tenor on the alternate take of "Sepia Panorama," as well as the title track and Webster's signature tune, "Chelsea Bridge," are more remarkable with each listen. The sheer force of Blanton's playing moves the band to a whole different level of intensity, and the contrast between the tones of altoist Johnny Hodges and Webster is one of the most unique and complimentary in the history of jazz. If you are new to this set, it's a fine introduction, with performances of classics such as "Ko-Ko," "Harlem Air Shaft," "All Too Soon," "In a Mellotone," "Warm Valley," "Harlem Airshaft," "Take the 'A' Train," "I Got It Bad," "Five O'Clock Drag," "Perdido," "Bojangles," "The C Jam Blues," "Concerto for Cootie," "Cottontail," "Johnny Come Lately," "Sentimental Lady," and many others. The Blanton-Webster Band featured a great many soloists, including Cootie Williams, Ray Nance, Rex Stewart, and vocalist Herb Jeffries. In fact, the only shortcomings on this set are some of the vocals by other performers, but let's face it, there were few truly great jazz singers at the time, and this minor annoyance is easily overlooked. While it is easy to be cynical about the way classic recordings are repackaged and remastered as a way of getting enthusiasts to buy them again and again, this one is truly worth either an initial investment or reinvestment. It may have taken RCA three tries, but they finally got it right. The package is lovely, the notes updated, and the sound stellar. Along with the extra tracks, what more could you want? © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1989 | Capitol Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
At the time of its release this was a true rarity, a full album of Duke Ellington featured with a trio sans his orchestra. Although his talents at the piano sometimes have been overshadowed by his many accomplishments as a composer, arranger, and bandleader, Ellington was actually one of the very few stride pianists (along with Mary Lou Williams) to effectively make the transition into more modern styles of jazz without losing his own musical personality; in fact Duke was an early influence on both Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor. Throughout this CD (which contains one previously unissued track), Ellington sounds modern (especially rhythmically and in his chord voicings) and shows that he could have made a viable career out of just being a pianist. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 27, 2004 | Columbia - Legacy

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
One of Ellington's rarer studio sessions and last out on this French CD, the main plot behind this runthrough of his standards is that the leader's piano is featured at some point in every song. His sidemen are also heard from and everyone is in fine form. Ellington's solo abilities were always a bit underrated due to his brilliance in other areas, but this set shows just how modern he remained through the years as a player. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 22, 2005 | Rhino Atlantic

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
This set came about, in part, as a result of Ellington's signing to Frank Sinatra's Reprise label in November 1962, with the ending of his exclusive contract to Columbia. Six numbers from the three Paris dates were initially edited and released by Reprise as part of the ten-song Duke Ellington's Greatest, but the bulk of the performances from those shows didn't surface until many years later as The Great Paris Concert on two LPs. The Great Paris Concert is raw and largely unedited, and depicts the full Ellington band in extraordinary form, oozing excitement -- from the saxophone showcase on opener "Rockin' in Rhythm," the various sections of the band take flight at different points throughout this set, which includes such contemporary numbers as Ellington's theme music for an all but forgotten television series, The Asphalt Jungle, and excerpts from Such Sweet Thunder. Johnny Hodges is showcased in several solos, most notably on "Suite Thursday," a work whose original studio incarnation he missed appearing on. Cootie Williams ("Tutti for Cootie"), Paul Gonsalves ("Cop Out"), Ray Nance ("Bula"), and Cat Anderson ("Jam with Sam") get their own moments in the spotlight. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Jazz - Released November 22, 2019 | Columbia Jazz Masterpieces

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
One of Duke Ellington's most delightful adaptations of another composer's material is his reworking of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite into jazz; this version is a classic and well worth treasuring. Ellington's reworking of Grieg's Peer Gynt Suites (including In the Hall of the Mountain King) and his tribute to John Steinbeck (Suite Thursday) are also among his better extended works, really utilizing the unique tones of his distinctive sidemen. Highly recommended. © TiVo
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Jazz - Released August 15, 1987 | Rhino - Elektra

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This late-period Duke Ellington album is perhaps most notable for including altoist Johnny Hodges' final recordings. In fact, Hodges was supposed to record his first soprano solo in nearly 30 years on "Portrait of Sidney Bechet," but he passed away before the second session. The set consists of the five-song "New Orleans Suite" plus tributes to Wellman Braud, Bechet (tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves took Hodges' place as its soloist), Louis Armstrong (a feature for trumpeter Cootie Williams), and Mahalia Jackson. Interesting if not essential music with a few memorable themes being the main reason to acquire this release. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1977 | Fantasy Records

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This Pablo set has odds and ends taken from nine different recording/rehearsal sessions that find Ellington experimenting a bit with instrumentation and personnel, even taking a vocal on the tongue-in-cheek "Moon Maiden." Performances range from a couple of vigorous trio workouts and spots for Wild Bill Davis's organ to a few big-band performances. Even this late in his life, Duke Ellington had a great deal to say musically and his band continued to rank near the top. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1999 | Verve

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Topping off a wealth of full-band recordings, the various stars of Ellington's great outfit recorded many combo sides under their own names. And while not on the same sophisticated level of classic Ellingtonia, the late-'30s material cut by Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, and Rex Stewart is packed with tasty solo work and some of the finest examples of early small-group swing. These later examples from 1958-1959 feature Hodges backed by both Ellington and Billy Strayhorn on piano and such non-Duke luminaries as Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, Harry "Sweets" Edison, and Jo Jones. Like its companion album, Back to Back, Side by Side has a loose, jam session feel, with all the soloists stretching out. Hodges is in top form throughout, while Edison and Webster man their spots just fine. Highlights include the sveltely swinging "Going Up" and Hodges' bluesy closer, "You Need to Rock." A must for fans of vintage combo swing. © Stephen Cook /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1995 | Blue Note Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
This double CD reissues a Solid State double LP that ranks as one of Duke Ellington's finest recordings of his final decade. The live performance gives listeners a good idea as to just how Duke's ensemble sounded in concert, and it serves as both a retrospective and a display of the strengths of Ellington's mighty band. Among the many highlights are definitive renditions of "Rockin' in Rhythm" and "Take the 'A' Train" (the latter has some wonderful Cootie Williams trumpet), a few features for altoist Johnny Hodges, a tenor battle on "In Triplicate," a few guest spots for organist Wild Bill Davis, and a 16-and-a-half-minute, nine-song medley that really works well. The most memorable chorus of all is an incredible high-note display by Cat Anderson on "Satin Doll" that is arguably his most miraculous solo ever; each note he hits is virtually impossible to play on the trumpet, and is in tune, too. This gem is essential for all serious jazz collections. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2002 | Blue Note Records

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One of the undeniable highlights of President Richard Nixon's administration was the 1969 White House gala celebrating Duke Ellington's 70th birthday, though jazz fans waited 33 years for their release. The all-star band includes trumpeters Clark Terry and Bill Berry, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, guitarist Jim Hall, trombonists J.J. Johnson and Urbie Green, pianist Hank Jones, bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Louis Bellson. There are three medleys of Ellington hits, with a new soloist for each song, since each of the brass and reed players is individually featured with the rhythm section. The first medley showcases Desmond's whisper-soft solo in "Chelsea Bridge," Mulligan's lyrical take of "Sophisticated Lady," and the sauntering feature for the trumpeters of "Just Squeeze Me," which is wrapped by an extended workout of "In a Mellotone" that spotlights just about everyone. The lush miniature of "In a Sentimental Mood" makes one wish that Hall and Hinton had recorded additional duets together, while Mulligan's somewhat wild arrangement of "Prelude to a Kiss" may have caused Ellington to lift an eyebrow. Billy Taylor takes over at the piano for a brief trio medley, while liner-note writer Doug Ramsey, who was present for the affair, mentions that the maestro sat bolt upright when he heard Desmond's flawless impression of Johnny Hodges during "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," which also has enjoyable solos by Mulligan and Dave Brubeck. Earl Hines' rollicking interpretation of "Perdido" is a crowd-pleaser. Singer Virginia Mayo's selections are easily eclipsed by the better-known Joe Williams, especially his emotional delivery of "Heritage." Ellington himself finally takes over the piano for "Pat," a lovely (and likely improvised) ballad dedicated to Mrs. Nixon. This wonderful tribute to Duke Ellington is highly recommended. © Ken Dryden /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1977 | Fantasy Records

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This two-CD set captures one of the milestones in Duke Ellington's long and extremely productive career, highlighted by his monumental suite "Black, Brown and Beige" in the only full-length version ever recorded by his orchestra; soon it was only performed as excerpts. In addition, Ellington's all-star orchestra (including such stylists as trumpeters Rex Stewart, Ray Nance, and Shorty Baker; trombonists Tricky Sam Nanton and Lawrence Brown; and a saxophone section boasting Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, and Harry Carney) excels on the shorter pieces, a mixture of older and recent compositions. Every serious jazz library should contain this set. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1987 | Fantasy Records

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"In the Uncommon Market," of course, refers to Europe, where Norman Granz caught the Ellington band numerous times with his tape machines in the 1960s. But it could also refer to the unusual repertoire featured on this collection, with only one standard, "In a Sentimental Mood," in a shelfful of out of the way Ellingtonia. These tracks, of indeterminate date, come from Ellington band concerts in Stockholm, Sweden, and Pastacitta, Italy, supplemented by some rare trio selections recorded in a museum in St. Paul-de-Vence, France, for a short film on Duke and the painter Joan Miró. The famous reed players are out in full cry; clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton thrives over the cool vamp of "Silk Lace," Johnny Hodges croons and sighs as only Johnny Hodges could in the lovely Shakespearian ballad "Star-Crossed Lovers," and Paul Gonsalves applies his oddly, singularly diffident tone to "E.S.P." A fascinating Afro-Cuban tango (to coin a hybrid), "Guitar Amour," puts a cap on the band portion of the disc, with Ray Nance playing the violin solos. Then the Ellington trio steps in with two takes of "The Shepherd," where the Duke's vocal obbligato can be overheard and the performances are so slyly swinging that you don't mind hearing it twice. And as Ellington unwinds and relaxes on the third and last trio swinger, "Kinda Dukish," you kinda wish that Granz had recorded an entire album of them. © Richard S. Ginell /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1984 | Fantasy Records

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Tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves will be remembered by many for his riotous 27 choruses on the Newport recording of "Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue." As with other prime Ellington soloists like Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney, Gonsalves was given ample room to display his wares live and in the studio. Duke's faith in Gonsalves was certainly made clear at Newport and is proven again on this very enjoyable showcase. Unbeknownst to Gonsalves, though, Ellington planned the session as a vehicle for his soloist's considerable skills. Recorded in May of 1962, the eight-song set was cut in about four hours. The resulting album has both an informal feel and the qualities of a laboriously planned recording. (Ellington's band, of course, was so tight on the boss's catalog that it always sounded rehearsed.) Gonsalves is impressive throughout, reeling off a keen mix of big-band blowing and harmonically sophisticated solos reminiscent of Don Byas' own varied approach to the tenor. In addition to stretching out on warhorses like "C Jam Blues" and "Take the 'A' Train," Gonsalves also offers up some snaky and vaporous lines on more involved Ellington cuts like "Caravan" and "Paris Blues." Backed by band regulars like Hodges, trumpeter Cat Anderson, trombonist Lawrence Brown, and clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton, among many others, Gonsalves turns this one-off session into one of the more enjoyable titles in Ellington's catalog. © Stephen Cook /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1977 | Fantasy Records

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The Ellington orchestra was undergoing some personnel (and personality) changes during this era, none of it unexciting. This Carnegie Hall concert (available on two CDs) introduced Ellington's "Perfume Suite," and includes a half-hour series of selections from "Black, Brown and Beige," but also in the shorter pieces shows the impact of tenorman Al Sears and high-note wizard Cat Anderson on the band's sound, making it a more potentially boisterous and extroverted ensemble. Lots of great moments from this brilliant orchestra occured during this concert. © Scott Yanow /TiVo