Duke Ellington: Artistry in Rhythm


Artistry in Rhythm


Duke Ellington (leader)


Recollections of the Big Band Era (Atlantic 90043-2)

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Duke Ellington (leader), Billy Strayhorn (piano), Ray Nance (violin), Cootie Williams (trumpet), Harry Carney (bass clarinet), Sam Woodyard (drums),

Cat Anderson, Roy Burrowes (trumpets), Lawrence Brown, Buster Cooper, Chuck Connors (trombones), Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet), Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope (alto saxes), Paul Gonsalves (tenor sax), Ernie Shepard (bass)


Composed by Pete Rugolo; arranged by Billy Strayhorn


Recorded: New York, January 3, 1963


Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

I promise I'll never again complain about excess bonus tracks on a CD. Though most such tracks tend to be alternate takes and often support the decision not to issue them in the first place, the CD reissue of Recollections of the Big Band Era contains 10 bonus tracks, none of which is an alternate take from the LP and one of which is this masterpiece by Billy Strayhorn.

This is a prime example of the woeful inadequacy of terminology such as "arranger" and "arranged by," and supports the contention of Gunther Schuller and others that works of this caliber (e.g., Gil Evans's Porgy and Bess) transcend the category "arrangement" and might be more correctly referred to as recompositions.

Strayhorn's masterful treatment of Stan Kenton's theme song begins not with a Kentonian wall of brass but with Ray Nance's pizzicato violin setting up a widely spaced background figure over a strange sort of double-time shuffle beat laid down by Sam Woodyard, after which Harry Carney's breathy bass clarinet states the theme. The effect is otherworldly and definitely not within Kenton's orbit. Hamilton later takes up the theme backed by Carney and the trombones.

A brief ensemble then leads to the kind of miraculous moment that can only happen in jazz. Cootie Williams restates the melody using what sounds like a derby mute, while Nance picks up his bow to supply a delicate obbligato. Though Williams is not soloing in the customary sense, he takes such complete and utterly personal possession of the written melody that it sounds (and more importantly feels) as though it originated in the depths of some mysterious bayou of his own invention.

All in all, a masterful example of the art of recomposition and illustrative of why most of the individual parts in the Ellington library had the name of the player in the upper left hand corner, rather than the name of the instrument.

Reviewer: Kenny Berger


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