James Newton: Cotton Tail

James Newton's tribute album to the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, The African Flower, is memorable largely because, as did Ellington, Newton wisely used musicians with distinctly individual sounds to help make his arrangements both personalized and unique. You might say that altoist Arthur Blythe is Newton's Johnny Hodges, cornetist Olu Dara his Bubber Miley or Cootie Williams, and violinist John Blake his Ray Nance, with Sir Roland Hanna at times simulating the Maestro at the piano. On top of this, Newton's own vibrant flute and Jay Hoggard's incisive vibes add instrumental colors rarely present in the Ellington harmonic palette.

"Cotton Tail" was introduced in 1940 by the celebrated Jimmy Blanton-Ben Webster edition of Ellington's orchestra, and featured Webster's famous tenor solo and a riveting unison interlude for the saxophone section. The combination of Rick Rozie's persistent bass line and Hanna's spiky keyboard clusters precede the ensemble's theme reading, with Newton and Blythe energetically splitting the bridge. Blythe's extravagant solo is pumped by Rozie's race-walking bass, playing the Blanton role. The altoist's wide vibrato accentuates the high-pitched squeals and shrieks that pepper the many riffs and subtexts that he succeeds in assembling into a coherent whole over the composition's "I Got Rhythm" changes. Hoggard and Hanna follow in a sparkling duet that gravitates from call-and-response mode to contrapuntal engagement, with modernistic Hanna here sounding very little like Duke. Newton's flute solo is one of his best on record in a straight-ahead, no-frills context, his marvelous tone and ample technique bringing to life his inventive, lucidly streaming lines. The theme's recurrence ignites brisk fills from Blythe and Newton, and then a concluding exultant flurry from the band.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Clark Terry: Cotton Tail

As first recorded by Duke Ellington's 15-piece band in 1940, "Cotton Tail" tore through the cabbage patch quicker than rabbits repopulate. Seventeen years later and 9 musicians fewer, the bunny still hops—albeit at a more relaxed tempo. (Hell, we all slow down with age.)

Whereas Ellington's first litter cut straight to the chase, this sextet culled from Duke's mid-'50s band takes a moment for a short intro before stating the theme. After playing vibes on the bridge, Tyree Glenn shows his versatility by switching to cup-muted trombone for a mellifluous leadoff solo. Following a Woodyard drum break, tenorman Gonsalves assumes center stage, backed by Woodyard's trademark insistent rim shots on beats 2 and 4. Tyree Glenn, meanwhile, has returned to his Lionel Hampton-style vibes to comp behind the soloists. Clark Terry takes over next, coming on like a cat who's been drummed out of March King John Philip Sousa's band for playing too hip. Britt Woodman then provides a follow-up trombone solo using, unlike his predecessor Glenn, an open horn.

This "Cotton Tail" won't make anyone forget Duke's original, but it's still enjoyable, especially for Tyree Glenn's goof at the end. Whereas Duke's chart terminated in an unexpected low note played in unison by bass and baritone sax, this arrangement apparently meant to omit that last harrumph. Vibist Glenn, not quite on the same page as everybody else, nevertheless strikes one final, conspicuously solitary chord. In his solitude, the embarrassed Mr. Glenn offers a sheepish "Oh!" that reminds us what joys lurk in unrehearsed jazz.

May 18, 2008 · 0 comments


Duke Ellington: Cotton Tail

Duke Ellington is jazz's most intimidating figure. His reputation (20th Century's Greatest Composer) is exceeded only by his mountainous output. For a mere reviewer to do the Maestro justice would demand years of fulltime listening and study. AND NO TV! Luckily, for the indolent among us, there is "Cotton Tail." Starting abruptly (no intro), "Cotton Tail" hops like an indecisive rabbit in a newly discovered cabbage patch, dramatically expanding from Ben Webster's magisterial solo to a crisp brass unison and sensational sax section soli, only to trail off surprisingly to Carney & Blanton's final low note. No PhD required. Enjoy.

November 20, 2007 · 3 comments


Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: Cotton Tail

Vocalese, invented by singer Eddie Jefferson in the early 1940s, sets words to preexisting instrumental passages, usually note for note—in contrast to scatting, which consists of independently improvised nonsense syllables. In this case, Jon Hendricks combines Duke Ellington's 1940 romp "Cotton Tail" with Beatrix Potter's 1902 children's tale of Peter Rabbit and his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail. After Hendricks verbalizes tenorman Ben Webster's solo, LH&R thrillingly re-create the headlong momentum of Duke's sax section. "If I hadn't been part of that group," Hendricks later reflected on LH&R, "it would be my life ambition to have been part of that group."

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments


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