Friday, 1 December 2017
Duke Ellington - Ellington Uptown (1952)
There's reinventions of (even then) old classics from the Ellington playbook like The Mooche, Perdido and Take The A Train, with the latter now featuring a great Betty Roche vocal, and freshly-minted material too in the stunning curtain-raiser. Skin Deep had been penned by drum prodigy Louie Bellson, whose double-bass-drum attack punctuates the track with solos that could give your average death metal drummer a run for their money in an era before most of them were even born.
The three suites that comprise the remaining material on the album, as far as I'm concerned, makes Ellington worthy to be spoken of in the same breath as Gershwin in terms of writing and arrangement. The Harlem Suite was commissioned by Arturo Toscanini, and in Duke's words depicted a Sunday morning walk through Harlem's Latin and West Indian neighbourhoods up to the business district, with the sights and sounds of civil rights marchers along the way.
The two suites at the end of this CD only appeared as part of the original album on certain releases, so this 2004 reissue was really the first 'complete' Uptown. The Controversial Suite takes a sideways look at rival factions in jazz - traditional vs. modern - by making both sound equally out-there. Lastly, the Liberian Suite is the oldest recording here (1947) with its gorgeous vocal introduction 'I Like The Sunrise', and was a tribute to the first African-American settlers in the Liberian Republic a century beforehand.