Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
The Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings
Genres: Jazz, Pop, Broadway & Vocalists
Close your eyes, dip your hand into this treasure chest, and play any of the 462 tracks contained within: you are guaranteed to hear something magnificent. It may be a stunning composition, an innovative arrangement, or an... more »
Close your eyes, dip your hand into this treasure chest, and play any of the 462 tracks contained within: you are guaranteed to hear something magnificent. It may be a stunning composition, an innovative arrangement, or an astonishing improvisational passage, but the brilliance is there. It is only fitting that the greatest figure in 20th-century popular music is the subject of this most wondrous box set. Across 24 discs, the majesty and unparalleled genius of Duke Ellington is on vivid display. Listening to the box from start to finish in chronological order, you discover a composer, bandleader, and pianist who consistently and daringly pushed his music ever forward. As fascinating as it is to hear his artistic progression as it unfolds, it is even more remarkable to digest these CDs out of order. During the course of 50 years, Ellington's creative wellspring gushed an amazing variety of music delivered in a multitude of different styles and settings; yet somehow, someway, it all sounds like Ellington. Whereas some artists find the blues idiom constricting, Duke saw it as a highly malleable and versatile foundation. The first seven CDs chronicle the maestro's Cotton Club days and his theatrical, visceral "jungle music," which was created as part of the club's African-themed stage shows and "tribal" dances. Even at this early stage, Ellington showed a tremendous ability to create expressive moods and keen imagery through his compositions as well as an uncanny understanding of his players' strengths. Six discs are dedicated to the early 1940s, when tenor sax player Ben Webster and bassist Jimmy Blanton elevated the band to new heights. The next three CDs cover the mid-1940s, when the Duke began experimenting with longer pieces. Another combines mid-1940s all-star jams with a full 1952 Seattle concert. All three of Ellington's Sacred Concerts follow, a bold, pioneering fusion of jazz and church, complete with choir and dance, that used the language of music to eloquently sermonize on the subjects of personal freedom, spirituality, and communication with God. The collection wraps up with four discs' worth of late-period magic, including the exotic and dramatic Far East Suite and an homage to recently departed Billy Strayhorn. This stunning package also serves as a tribute to all of the superior musicians that found a home in the Ellington Orchestra. Special mention must be made of altoist Johnny Hodges, who first recorded with Ellington in 1928 and stayed with him (except for a brief respite in the 1950s) until his death in 1970. Throughout, his sublime tone and fertile imagination epitomize the beauty, inventiveness, and dignity that is the essence of jazz. Also of note are the many superb compositions and arrangements from Strayhorn, who managed to carve a vital niche for himself while remaining true to the sound of Ellingtonia. The accompanying 128-page full-color book overflows with wonderful photos and insightful essays that explore Ellington from every possible angle. The discographical information is delivered with excruciating detail and the package as a whole exudes love, devotion, and respect. Somewhere deep inside the book, producer Orrin Keepnews writes, "When dealing with the music of Edward Kennedy Ellington, there is no excuse for stopping anywhere short of perfection." Mission accomplished. --Marc Greilsamer (Casual listeners might prefer the single-CD sampler.)
Unparalleled music - cheap packaging
Ed Brickell | 02/16/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"You can't go wrong with the man who was truly 'Beyond Category' - the greatest musician in American history, and, very likely, the greatest artist in American history -period - the great Duke Ellington.RCA got a lot right with this set: the music - all 24 cds worth - is amazing, the remastering of the recordings from the 30s and40s is astonishing, and the lavishly illustrated booklet provides a comprehensive overview of the Duke's career.The one thing that RCA got wrong, however, was the packaging of the individual cds. Each disc is enclosed in a cheap, flimsy, cardboard sleeve instead of in a jewel box. You can't get a disc out of its cardboard prison without reaching in and getting your fingerprints all over it . You can't store your new Ellington cds with the rest of your collection, because the sleeves won't fit in your cd shelf, nor will they stand up straight like a jewel box will. Even if you do stack them at the end of your row of normal cds, you still have to sort through them to find the disc you want, because you can't read the spine like you can on a normal jewel box. If you are spending this kind of money to buy a box set, I suspect that your interest in the Duke will last for a lifetime. I guarantee that the cheap cardboard sleeves in this set won't. If you are spending this kind of money to buy a box set, you shouldn't have to buy 24 empty jewel boxes to preserve your investment. That's what I plan to do, however. I suspect that many others will do the same."
An outstanding set!
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Congratulations are in order for producers Keepnews and Lasker, and for BMG. If only Sony would issue it's Ellington holdings (Columbia, Brunswick, Okeh, etc.) in such a comprehensive and intelligent fashion! The remastering is fantastic. The digital transfers are wonderfully clear and full-bodied (for a sample of other work by Steven Lasker check out reissues of Ellington's 1920s Brunswick recordings on the GRP/Decca Jazz label), and easily superior to any previous issues of these recordings. The music, whether from the 1920s, 30s, 40s or 60s is some of the best in the Ellington catalog. The annotations are meticulous and the 124 page book is beautifully illustrated.
REVISED - 2006 - O.K., I was a little excited when I wrote my earlier review. I still stand by everything I wrote, though with a few qualifications. First, the other reviewers here are correct about the packaging. I replaced the cardboard sleeves with jewel cases. Second, the content of the book is excellent. However, it is not bound well. I've been extremely careful with mine, but a few pages are coming loose. Third, I think the remastering on the first thirteen discs is excellent. I've been listening to 78-era recordings for many years. The background hiss is inevitable. To remove all of the hiss would leave a boxy and compressed sound, and that's as grating to me as the hiss seems to be for others. Unfortunately, I don't think discs 14 through 16 in this set meet the same high standards of the first thirteen. To my ears, they have some of that dreadful compressed quality. They are much better than previous issues, but not as good as the first thirteen discs (a different engineer performed the CEDAR noise reduction on discs 14-16). Finally, discs 17 through 24 are a mixed bag. Some of the music is not as essential as the earlier material (e.g. the Tanglewood concert). Also, the remastering on the last four discs is a little thin and abrasive (compare to the excellent work on the "Far East Suite" portion of the set - again, a different engineer is at work here).
That said, I do not regret buying this set. I bought it mainly for the first sixteen discs (though the Far East Suite and Strayhorn tribute are highlights of Ellington's late period). The music is always more important to me than the packaging, and for the most part the sound is stunning."
No excuse for the crummy packaging
Ed Brickell | 08/06/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I agree with the person who complained about the cheap packaging. Yes the music is great. But cardboard sleeves? In addition to the problems that person cited, sliding discs in and out of the sleeve is going to scratch them. Next, the little ribbons used for lifting the CDs out of their wells in the plastic box insert are glued in place. Guess what? They come unglued! Unless you reglue them, you have to turn the box upside down and shake out all the CDs to get the one you want.Finally, the lovely book that comes with the set is cheaply bound. I haven't even read it once and there are pages coming loose. Come on, RCA! This is meant to be your highest tribute to America's greatest composer, and you aren't exactly giving it away. You could have used better binding and real jewel cases, sold it at the same price, and still profited handsomely. Shame on you!"