Duke Ellington: Artistry in Rhythm

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.

October 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Paul Ellingson: Artistry in Rhythm

Yes, Ellingson, not Ellington. The late Paul Ellingson (1938-2005) was an aesthetic gadfly out-of-place in a Salt Lake City that never recognized his talents. But Ellingson didn't make it easy for those trying to come to grips with his personal artistry in rhythm. Sometimes he focused his energies on the visual arts (his painting and sketches illustrate his Solo Jazz Piano release), at other times he stirred things up as an architectural critic, or tried to rewrite music theory with his radical ideas on harmony. But his creativity was perhaps best served when he sat down at the piano and improvised. Under different circumstances he might have gained recognition as one of the most expressive jazz pianists of his generation, a true poet of the keyboard. Instead he left us only one -- ridiculously hard to find -- recording of solo piano music. Seek it out and enjoy his ruminative, highly intelligent recreations of standards and original compositions. Ellingson's nuanced reworking of Stan Kenton's theme song, "Artistry in Rhythm," is a revelation, showing the fragile beauty inside the grandiloquence of the big band anthem. A pristine reminder of a musician who never found his audience, but (in Brando's famous words from On the Waterfront) "could've been a contender."

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments


Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm

To Stan Kenton, bigger was better. More instruments, expanded ranges, wider voicings, grand gestures, GREATER VOLUME. Everything about him was louder than life. (Did we say louder? Sorry, we meant larger. Listening to Kenton, it's tough to hear yourself think.) And manly? Oh, my dear! Derived from "Invocation to the Nymphs" in Ravel's ballet Daphnis et Chloé, "Artistry in Rhythm" is Stan's only known connection to nymphs. Verily, in the Dark Age before pharmacology vanquished erectile dysfunction, anyone with depleted virility had merely to touch a Kenton record to be restored to full functionality. "Artistry in Rhythm" is Viagra set to jazz.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page