Duke Ellington: Limehouse Blues
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra
The Chronological Duke Ellington 1931-1932 (Classics 616)
Duke Ellington (piano), Arthur Whetsol (trumpet), Freddy Jenkins (trumpet), Cootie Williams (trumpet), Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton (trombone), Juan Tizol (trombone), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Fred Guy (guitar), Wellman Braud (bass), Sonny Greer (drums).
Composed by Philip Braham & Douglas Furber.
Recorded: Camden, NJ, June 16, 1931
Rating: 92/100 (learn more)
"Limehouse Blues" is not a blues, but it was inspired by the London neighborhood. When Duke Ellington recorded the song in 1931, the song was ten years old and Ellington was just two years away from his first trip to London. The introduction, with an odd clip-clop rhythm from Sonny Greer, sounds more like the Old West than the East End. Ellington must have liked the relaxed loping feel of this song, for he keeps the two-beat going throughout the arrangement. Ellington's setting is a feature for his three saxophonists, but all of the solo segments are in 8-bar pieces. After the theme chorus, a trumpet variation alternates with Johnny Hodges' alto sax. Hodges' early style is in full bloom here, but he (like Harry Carney later on) has problems trying to swing against the two-beat rhythm. Bigard is up next with a wild clarinet tremolo and complete rhythmic security. Carney decorates the melody and briefly tries his own kind of tremolo. Bigard starts his next eight with the same tremolo as if to show Carney how it's meant to be played, and Carney takes the hint and goes back to paraphrasing the tune. The brass have an easier time swinging the phrases in the final ensemble chorus, and Hodges and Bigard each get brief solo spots between the brass figures. At the end, Ellington makes a minor mis-step in bringing back his odd introduction, but not even the trumpet fills by Cootie Williams can make that music make sense.
Reviewer: Thomas Cunniffe