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Play the Blues Back to Back
Here we have an oddity in the Duke Ellington collection, a small-band record that includes not a single Ellington composition and only one Ellington musician, co-leader and alto sax king Johnny Hodges. The repertoire consi... more »
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Here we have an oddity in the Duke Ellington collection, a small-band record that includes not a single Ellington composition and only one Ellington musician, co-leader and alto sax king Johnny Hodges. The repertoire consists of seven classic blues, including three from the pen of W.C. Handy, and the results of this informal 1959 session are nothing short of remarkable. The other major solo voice is Harry "Sweets" Edison, a Count Basie-band veteran who seems particularly inspired on this day. His embrace of the melody on "Basin Street Blues" shows great tenderness laced with simply perfect blues-based accents. Hodges offers a virtual lesson throughout in how to build solos from the ground up, nuzzling the nostalgic melodies at first before adding colorful embellishments. Meanwhile, Ellington's spare improvisations and clever comping offer bold chord choices and typically idiosyncratic timing without overwhelming the basic structure and feeling of the blues. No question, a record of old standards and easygoing statements can be just as powerful as any. --Marc Greilsamer
S J Buck | Kent, UK | 05/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Previous reviewers have already said everything that needs to be said, so I'll keep this short. This is a small group recording with Jo Jones on drums Les Spann on Guitar, Johnny Hodges on Alto Sax and Harry Edison on Trumpet.
None of the tracks are Ellington tunes, which is very unusual. When Ellington plays these tunes they begin to sound like he wrote them. In this case its probably because they are all blues. With a talent as great as Ellington's you quickly put your mark on the music. All the musicians play beautifully. This isn't a wild jam session, so whilst there certainly are sparks they are of a more subtle nature.
If you want to hear more of Ellington's under-rated Piano playing I strongly recommend "Piano in the Foreground" and "Money Jungle". Both of these feature the Dukes Piano in a trio setting (although wildly different)."
A listless affair
Matthew Watters | Vietnam | 11/27/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"From the standpoint of the quality of Duke's piano playing, this is actually one of the weakest items in the Ellington catalogue. While Hodges sounds as lovely as he ever does Ellington is so uncharacteristically recessive, it's almost as if he wasn't there. I have two theories: either (1) the participants deliberately set out to make a sort of chamber jazz based on a small group lineup common to the 1920s and 30s (and Ellington therefore deliberately played softly and unobtrusively) or (2) Ellington was actually trying to undercut Hodges' session (which would have been uncharacteriscally small of him, but it sure sounds like it). Ellington's playing here is so minimalist and uninteresting that the phrase "phoning it in" would be generous. The only stars on this album, if there are any, are the players whose names aren't even on the cover: Basie veteran Sweets Edison, who adds some much-needed pungency to an otherwise listless affair, and Les Spann, who is so out-of-place as to almost be interesting (imagine George Benson sitting in on a Johnny Hodges date.) One more theory: this was really a Hodges-Edison date with Ellington sitting in, and they stuck Duke's name on the front for marketing purposes, which makes this album all-the-more annoying, despite its superficial prettiness. If you want to hear Ellington's piano tackling the blues in a group setting, buy Blues in Orbit and give this one a pass.