Duke Ellington: Live At The Berlin Jazz Festival 1969-1973 – The Lost Recordings

Previously unreleased small-group and orchestral pieces feature Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges and the raucous Cat Anderson

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These previously unreleased small-group and orchestra recordings (14 years apart) both at the Berlin Jazz Festival should be cautiously welcomed by Ellington completists. The first 1973 set contains sprightly “remakes” of well-crafted and familiar Ducal favourites with solos by Harry Carney (Sophisticated Lady), Joe Benjamin (Pitter Panther Patter) and Money Johnson (“A” Train). The piano player underwrites their performances with well-placed interpolations.

More interesting is his Piano Improvisation No.1, an extended and delicate performance, with Joe Benjamin and drummer Quinten “Rocky” White Jr offering sensitive shading in the concluding section. The final track features the famous tap dancer Baby Laurence, audibly performing a slow blues, with piano punctuation and encouraging grunts from Duke and pulsating support from Benjamin.

The 1969 concert (on Duke’s 70th birthday) allegedly features nine players. But as noted below, the listed personnel are incomplete, and it’s hard to believe that there was no trombone section. Organist Wild Bill Davis (featured on Satin Doll) is loudly introduced four times to the audience by the Duke himself. How annotator Stéphane Ollivier missed this remains a mystery. La Plus Belle Africaine, first performed in Dakar in 1966, also appears on the CD Duke Ellington, The English Concerts 1969 and 1971. At the Berlin Philharmonic in 1969 it receives a long (7.57) workout, with a magisterial solo by Harry Carney.

El Gato – Cat Anderson’s party piece – threatens (as always) to damage the ears, but I Can’t Get Started (with a gentle introduction by Duke) features the more mellow tones of (possibly) Mercer Ellington and Cootie Williams. On Mood Indigo, the clarinet soloist might well be Procope.

Satin Doll offers no real surprises, but the band swings easily with an effortful solo from an anonymous trumpeter (Cootie?), pounding organ from Wild Bill, and another grandstanding and ear-piercing contribution from Anderson. In conclusion, Duke offers a serene and moving solo rendition of Meditation, taken from one of his Sacred Concerts.

In sum, this is an entertaining but hardly an essential compilation. It is also shoddily presented. Curiously, the 1973 selections are listed before those recorded in 1969. The accompanying notes by Ollivier contain little information on either of the performances, but he opines that “Ellington develops a decidedly disconnected discourse that is simultaneously minimalist, expressionistic and powerfully rhythmical.” ’Nuff said? He does, however, remind us that Duke died on 24 May 1974, only a few months after the second Berlin concert.

Discography
(1) Piano Improvisation No.1; Take The “A” Train; Pitter Panther Patter; Sophisticated Lady; Introduction By Baby Laurence; Tap Dance; (2) La Plus Belle Africaine; El Gato; I Can’t Get Started; Caravan; Mood Indigo; Satin Doll; Meditation (51.20)
(1) Ellington (p); Joe Benjamin (b); Quinten “Rocky” White Jr; (d); Harold “Money” Johnson (t); Paul Gonsalves (ts); Harry Carney (bar, cl). Berlin Philharmonic, 2 November 1973.
(2) Ellington (p); Cat Anderson, Cootie Williams , Mercer Ellington (t); Harold Ashby (ts); Paul Gonsalves (ts); Johnny Hodges (as); Harry Carney (bar, cl); Rufus Jones (d). NB: Wild Bill Davis (org), Russell Procope (cl) and Joe Benjamin (b) are not listed in personnel. Berlin Philharmonic, 8 November, 1969.
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