Sunday, July 08, 2012

Duke Ellington and Orchestra in Zurich with Special Guest Don Byas

TCOB Music calls itself The Montreux Jazz Label ™ and has several different series which can be distinguished by the color of the CD spine. Red is devoted to bebop, hardbop and postbop, green is devoted to the Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series and has vintage jazz concerts recorded by Swiss radio (I have heard an excellent live Art Blakey set), while blue is devoted to the music of the forties and fifties in general. One of the recent productions in the blue series presents vintage Duke Ellington & Orchestra.

Live in Zurich, Switzerland presents a May 1950 performance by Ellington in Zurich that certainly will be welcomed by fans of the Duke Ellington. The Ellington Orchestra that day included trumpeters Harold Baker, Ernie Royal and Ray Nance; trombonists Lawrence Brown and Quentin Jackson; saxophonists Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Jimmy Hamilton and special guest Don Byas; the Duke and Billy Strayhorn sharing the piano chair, Wendell Marshall on bass, and Butch Ballard sharing the drums with Sonny Greer.

In addition to Don Byas’ appearance here, the program is quite fresh opening with Suddenly It Jumped, before going into Ring Them Bells. Creole Love Call features Kay Davis’ remarkable vocalizing while Harry Carney gets to showcase his baritone on Paradise. Air Conditioned Jungle showcases Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet, while Byas shines on How High the Moon, which opens as a ballad for two or so minutes before the band kicks up the tempo first moderately, then ratchets it up into hyperdrive before Byas slows it down for its ending.

The Tattooed Bride, which was then a relatively recent composition of the Duke, is the lengthiest performance here with Lawrence Brown’s trombone and Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet prominent Billy Strayhorn takes the piano chair for the band’s his classic, Take the A Train, while Frankie and Johnny features a healthy does of rollicking stride piano from the Duke, some violin from Ray Nance and more clarinet from Hamilton.

More piano is heard in the introductory portion of Rockin’ in Rhythm. Johnny Hodges’ alto is featured on the tone poem, Violet Blue, and the hot blues, Jeep is Jumping. It likely is Ray Nance handling the vocal on W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues, while trumpeter Ernie Royal is showcased on S’Wonderful, opening first using a mute before launching into his bop-inflected saxophone. This is a very welcome addition to the Ellington discography with its interesting personnel and the very interesting selection of material. The sound of this live recording sounds pretty good as well.

This review appeared in slightly different form in the April 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 303). I believe I received my review copy from that publication. This is still available including as mp3s.

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