Duke Ellington (featuring Sonny Greer): Ko-Ko (live 1940)
Duke Ellington (piano)
Fargo, North Dakota, November 7, 1940 (Vintage Jazz Classics 1019/20-2)
Rex Stewart (cornet), Wallace Jones, Ray Nance (trumpets), Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown (trombones), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Otto “Toby” Hardwick (clarinet, alto sax), Ben Webster (tenor sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Freddy Guy (guitar).
Composed by Duke Ellington.
Recorded: live at The Crystal Ballroom, Fargo, ND, November 7, 1940
Rating: 97/100 (learn more)
While Sonny Greer was sometimes described as a casual or erratic timekeeper, he was also known as a subtle and discreet drummer who fit the Ellington orchestra perfectly, since the arrangements Duke's musicians played were all about voicings, coloration, textures and dynamics. When Greer sat amongst his elaborate configuration (except for one-night stands like this) of snare, tom-toms, bass drum, cymbals, timpani, vibes, chimes and gong, you might have thought he was the leader of the band, yet he was primarily there to supply a complementary rhythmic foundation, not to perform showy solos like a Gene Krupa or a Buddy Rich. Greer did this for Duke from 1927 to 1951.
The Fargo, ND, dance date recording of "Ko-Ko" is a very clear example of Greer's prowess, as well as his remarkable rapport with the great bass innovator Jimmy Blanton. The arrangement and execution may be lacking compared to the tune's classic original studio recording from earlier that year, but the performance is just as exciting, thanks in part to Blanton and Greer. This version of the blues piece is levitated initially by Greer's bass drum and Blanton's pulsating bass, the rhythms somewhat a throwback to Duke's old "jungle" style. The harmonically sophisticated intricacies of the call-and-response riffs and vamps between the saxes, trumpets and trombones, Nanton's charged plunger-muted solo, Blanton's provocative fills, and the powerful crescendo ending with its return of the jungle beat, all combine to make this a prime Ellington track.
Reviewer: Scott Albin