Here are many of the numbers that Duke featured on his recent visit, now released here for the first time. The whole constitutes the main part of Duke’s 1958 programme at the Newport Festival, and contains several compositions that we were not lucky enough to have him play for us.
Duke is always at his best when he uses his band as a primary instrument, the soloists being merely cogs in the finely oiled Ellington machinery. This is aptly born out on the opening track which after Duke’s piano introduction relapses into that unique ducal sound – with the engine firing solidly on all six cylinders. The only soloist is Gonsalves who sounds in better form than when he was here.
Another intriguing piece of writing is the delightful “Princess Blue”. This long track has much to commend it, the full band sound is peculiar to Duke, and his scoring for the backgrounds to solos from Procope’s alto, Britt Woodman and Clark Terry being inimitable.
Another one we didn’t get here is the humorous “Jazz Festival” – a sparkling prototype of jazz styles varying from the cool to the hot, and even taking in a trip down South. The New Orleans section of this piece with Nance, Jackson and Procope providing the traditional front line is a riot.
But the depth and quality of Duke’s writing is often subordinated to the needs of his soloists – sometimes with great success. “Juniflip”, is a perfect setting for Clark Terry’s witty playing. Another happy track is “Mr Gentle & Mr. Cool” a delightful piece shared by the warm sounding Shorty Baker and Nance’s pliant violin. Gonsalves is again on form on the pretty “Reunion” which has just the soloist and Duke swinging with the rhythm section. Both here and on “Mr. G. & Mr. C.” Sam Woodyard’s drums flow very smoothly.
Not quite so successful are the tracks for Cat Anderson; the one for Sam Woodyard; and the one shared between Gerry Mulligan and Harry Carney – I am sure the latter could have done better on his own.
Nevertheless the album contains, as always with Duke, many fresh sounds all within the normal conception of what one has by now come to expect from Ellington. Notice the length of this record – real value for money! Sinclair Traill
Just Scratchin’ The Surface: El Gato: Happy Reunion; Multicoloured Blue; Princess Blue (28½ min) – Jazz Festival Jazz; Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool; Juniflip; Prima Bara Dubla; Hi Fi Fo Fum (28 min)
Ray Nance, Cat Anderson, Shorty Baker, Clark Terry (tpts); Britt Woodman, John Sanders, Quentin Jackson (tbns); Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, Harry Carney (saxes): Jimmy Wood (bs); Sam Woodyard (d); Duke Ellington (p); Gerry Mulligan (bari); added for “Prima Bara Dubla”.
Philips BBL 7279. 12inLP. 37s. 61d.