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At Newport 1956
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Perhaps the best musical argument for digital technology to
Samuel Chell | Kenosha,, WI United States | 03/24/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Call me a purist, a Luddite, a teller of tall tales, but were it not for this triumph of digital technology, I could think of reasons that I prefer, to all of the iPods and digital downloads, analog recordings played on my Dual turntable with its Shure V15 top-of-the-line cartridge (at least it was 30 years ago, and I've heard the precious metal required for the stylus is no longer available). But Sony invested huge sums of money in restoring Ellington's most popular recording (arguably his greatest triumph), uncovering new tapings and documents in the process--a project that would be unthinkable in the present era of plummeting CD sales, the end of jazz releases by major labels, the discernible lack of interest in jazz among the American public (coincidentally since Ken Burns' epic PBS series on the history of this African-American art form).
The Columbia-Sony achievement of 1999 made me completely rethink my previous estimate of "Ellington at Newport '56" as an over-rated, "minor" Ellington addition to his vast discography. But now for the first time you can hear the actual concert (the band took the Newport stage twice--early in the evening for a brief set, when 4 key members were not present, and later, for the marathon Gonsalves' solo on "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue," at 11:45pm--with the seemingly impossible task of holding the crowd during a period during the band's history when Ellington's musical family was being dismissed as long in the tooth and even unswinging! Now we finally learn that what we heard on the LP was only part of the concert and that limited portion was largely "reconstructed" the next day in the studio. This CD brings you the entire, "live" concert in audio so clean and pristine it could have been recorded today. And for the first time, Paul Gonsalves' solo can be heard in stereo--authentic two-track stereo. (The LP was monaural, and Paul, moreover, was playing off-mic!)
The disc receives many plays from me for a number of reasons. Paul's solo is a masterpiece--a textbook example of a soloist staying "within himself," resisting the urge to impress and instead focusing on "staying in the pocket" of the beat and communicating with the crowd for what was later headlined around the world as "the riot at Newport." Paul's solo is a model of subtlety in its ever-so-slight variations with each passing chorus--each increasing the musical tension while maintaining the audience attention--as well as the kinetic, irresistible pulse (as measured by the dancing in the aisles by an expanding group of listeners). But without a doubt the band swings harder on this occasion than the Basie juggernaut or any large ensemble captured on record. Much of the credit belongs to the locked-in, tight time-stream supplied by the team of drummer Sam Woodyard and bassist Jimmy Wood, a thing of sheer beauty and continual delight. But it's also the ingenious call-response riffs Ellington has scored for the band behind the soloists and, not least of all, that Ellington piano. Listen to his chords--the spacing of his voicings and the placement of his percussive attack--and listen to his unrelenting vocal encouragement in the background. The Maestro is clearly having the time of his life, a commander-in-chief who is cracking the whip over a force that has sprung to life as never before and simply knows no quit. And to think there was a time--especially after hearing Duke on several later, small-group sessions--with Coltrane, Mingus and Roach--that I thought of Duke's as being a limited, "composer's" piano. Not after this recording (which in turn led me to check out the brilliance of some of his early work, including the fabled Blanton-Webster band).
I see that this edition, released in 2009, has already been discontinued. Not to worry. In fact, you would probably be well-advised to stay away from an Import of a recording of such magnitude and perfection. Settle for nothing less than the 1999 American edition, whether the original copy or a later release of that singular, undeniable success.
[If you want to hear more of just Paul--a fine graphic artist as well as a beautiful person and formidable musician who seemed to abandon Duke's side only when a bottle was near by--check out "Salt and Pepper" with Sonny Stitt and Paul Gonsalves. The latter gives the pyrotechnical and frequently sublime, habitually dominating and "perfect," Stitt all he can handle, but on "Stardust" the pair form a musical relationship as complementary as that between Gene Ammons and Sonny.]"