Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Nice, But Shouldn't Be Your Only Ellington
Johnny Hodges | Clark Fork, ID United States | 12/01/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Content: 5 stars
Sound Quality: 3 stars
Packaging: 2 stars
Bang for the Buck: 5 stars
Duke Ellington created over 2000 compositions, so the producers of this set had plenty to choose from. And a nice broad display it is. The band retained most of its key personnel throughout the band's history. The band featured arguably among the best on their instruments at alto sax (Johnny Hodges), baritone sax (Harry Carney), clarinet (Barney Bigard, Jimmy Hamilton), and piano (the Duke himself). The stability of band enabled the Duke to write compositions with the distinct voice of the players in mind.
This collection of Ellington's big band (no small group sessions here) covers the years 1932 to 1953. Like most of the Quadromania series, the selections for inclusion shows the hand of someone who really cares about this music. The collection covers a wide variety of the broad spectrum of moods and tones that are Ellington library. Very few distracting vocals, lots of gorgeous Johnny Hodges alto sax solos. 16 of the cuts are from the Blanton/Webster years, considered by many the band's peak. Other standouts: "Blue Skies" featuring a hair-curling upper register blowing of trumpeter Cat Anderson and a roaring "C-Jam Blues" where the Duke band is joined by the entire Woody Herman herd. Two versions of one of my big favorites: "Caravan"; one in a spooky gypsy caravan mode, the other a smoking full blast version. The last CD from the 50's features long (8-15 min.) versions of "Mood Indigo", "Sophisticated Lady", "Tattooed Bride" and "Solitude". The few titles that are repeated in different versions are vastly different. The tracks are in chronological order, but still well programmed so back-to-back tunes show some contrast.
This set of CD's is a splendid introduction to the Duke for the uninitiated. If you have a lot of Ellington's output already, this makes a cost-effective way to fill in some of the holes. Although I had at least a dozen Ellington CD's already, over half the material here was new to me. The collection also makes a nice compendium for car stereo or walkman use.
The 24 bit remastered sound quality is fair, better than most of these import collections (I'm thinking of outfits like Proper Box). The midrange is very clean; horns and vocals sound warm and robust. There is only a small amount of noise on the older sides. But when I compare the tracks that also appear on "The Duke" Sony (nee Columbia) collection or, especially, the "Never No Lament" BMG collection, the Quadromania tracks suffer by comparison in dynamic range, high frequency sharpness (the horns lose a lot of punch), bass definition (string bass sounds a bit like a gut bucket), and occassionally the restrained but none the less hideous use of reverb (in a misguided effort for a "fuller" sound). The are a few annoying discontinuities in sound, like the aforementioned "Blue Skies" playing at a reduced orchestra volume, probably because of Anderson's loud notes. You get the depth, elegance and interplay of the assembled, but a good bit of the fire is missing. I would hate to think of anyone out there having this as their ONLY Ellington recordings.
The CD case, while well designed, fails because the little teeth that should hold the CDs in place frequently (a)don't & (b)break. This causes CDs to get loose during travel or while trying to remove another CD in the box. Liner notes give titles, dates, and personnel for each track, but no biographical or other information.
If you buy this, consider also picking up Duke Ellington's Finest Hour which nicely brackets the range of dates in this set; with some late 20's good-timey tunes from the band's adolesence along with some large and small group sessions from the 60's. And shows how good old recording can sound when the CD company owns the masters."