Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington: Mood Indigo
The Great Summit / The Master Takes (Roulette/Blue Note, #7243 5 24547 2 3)
Mort Herbert (bass), Danny Barcelona (drums).
Composed by Duke Ellington, Barney Bigard & Irving Mills.
Recorded: New York, April 3-4, 1961
Rating: 98/100 (learn more)
It's interesting to compare this recording of "Mood Indigo" with Ellington's December 1930 version, the more instrumentally filled out of his three original 1930 recordings of the tune. Doing so, we hear an innovative work with unique voicings; as Ellington expert John Edward Hasse has explained, Duke and co-composer Barney Bigard "turned the usual roles of trombone, trumpet and clarinet on their heads by assigning the trombone the high notes and the clarinet the low, creating a blend of tonal colors probably never heard before in all of music history."
In this 1961 rendition we hear Ellington, with Armstrong, Bigard and Trummy Young, turn that original piece into a sublime work of musical art. In the 1930 track, we also hear the origins of the remarkable clarinet part played by Bigard on this recording.
A distinctive Ellington mini-prelude begins things, and Armstrong follows with a majestic statement of the theme. Barney Bigard next takes the lead and plays some ineffably beautiful, exquisitely shaped, lyrically flowing lines, with gloriously rich clarinet tone, parts in that low range Hasse noted in the original record.
Louis then sings the lyrics, which transition into a scat section, the latter part harmonically complemented by Trummy Young's muted trombone; and that leads into a lovely, soulful, unique high-range trombone solo, with striking tone—and breath—control. In the midst of that solo, Armstrong (rhythmically) says, "Oh, listen to ol' Trummy blowin' that pretty horn." That's an example of a nice, collegial thing Armstrong would do: compliment by name a band member playing especially well, giving him special recognition; he'd also say, "take it" so-and-so as he signaled a bandmate for a solo, giving a special platform for the musician's performance. The tune finishes in beautiful "mood indigo" manner with Armstrong's vocal, assisted by Young's continued, subtle trombone work, Ellington and the rest backing them.
Finally, another of my jazz heresies: In this particular case, I think the piece would actually be better without the lyrics/vocal. (This comes from a musician/songwriter whose best musical ability is his singing and his lyrics!) I just don't think the lyrics are especially good; the musical composition, with those instrumentalists playing and improvising so extraordinarily, is so good there is need for nothing else.
Reviewer: Dean Alger