Duke Ellington: Warm Valley
Duke Ellington (piano)
Masterpieces 1926-1949 (Proper Box UK)
Rex Stewart (cornet), Ray Nance, Wallace Jones (trumpets), Joe Nanton, Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown (trombones), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Otto Hardwick (alto sax), Ben Webster (tenor sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Fred Guy (guitar), Jimmy Blanton (bass), Sonny Greer (drums).
Composed by Duke Ellington & Bob Russell.
Recorded: New York, September 5, 1940
Rating: 90/100 (learn more)
This track is a prime example of Ellington writing for the nature and musical strengths of one of his great soloists. In this case, it's a vehicle for the rich tone, exquisitely flowing lines, and creative artistry of alto sax master Johnny Hodges. "Warm Valley" was not about earth topography, but rather about womanly contours and feelings (in both senses). And the ability of Johnny Hodges to blow the most sensuous lines was well employed.
The song is described as a ballad, and is a beautiful one. But it also takes a step in the direction of subsequent pieces that really transcended ballads to be more like tone poems featuring the glorious alto playing of Hodges. The following year's "Passion Flower" was among the first of them. Here, Johnny's sublime alto work is complemented by fine muted trumpet lines and fulsome, lovely ensemble playing from the full band, with several crescendos in the right places adding beautifully to the feel of the tune. Some would probably give this a higher rating; for me, it simply isn't the most thrilling sort of tune, though the pure aesthetics are appreciated.
Reviewer: Dean Alger