This week I review another recent jazz re-issues from Columbia/Legacy, "Duke Ellington: The Complete Columbia Studio Album Collection 1951-1959."
"Duke Ellington: The Complete Columbia Studio Album Collection 1951-1959"
This 10-CD box set, recently released by Columbia/Legacy, includes 10 CDs of the Duke's Columbia studio work from 1951 to 1959 and retails for about $61 bucks on Amazon.com. The maestro's albums with his famous jazz orchestra includes "Masterpieces By Ellington," released in 1951; "Ellington Uptown," released in 1952; "Blue Rose with Rosemary Clooney," released in 1956; "The Drum Is A Woman," also released in '56; "Such Sweet Thunder," released in 1957; "Ellington Indigos," also released in '57; "Black, Brown And Beige with Mahalia Jackson," released in 1958; "Duke Ellington At The Bal Masque," also released in '58; and "Duke Ellington's Spacemen: The Cosmic Scene," again released in '58.
What the set doesn't include are numerous live albums also released by Duke and his band in the 1950s, including two different albums at the Newport Jazz Festival that jump-started Ellington's comeback in the jazz community.
Ellington recorded so prolifically it's nearly impossible to own all his recordings, but these albums have been re-issued many times by Columbia in several formats over the years. I own nearly all of them on both CD and vinyl, but this is the first time they've all been offered in one box set.
Ellington also recorded a few albums for the label in the 1960s, but those aren't included here. What we do have is a fascinating and wonderful snapshot of the band during its reconstruction years leading to its ultimate triumph by the end of the 1950s.
Ellington probably invented the concept album with his jazz orchestral works, something he had experimented with in the 1930s and '40s. But it was in the 1950s that Ellington really got his mojo on and began the most sophisticated writing of his career. The man's output was staggering, idealistic and completely personal, and its more apt to talk about his symphonic jazz in terms of color rather than sound.
Ellington had recorded previously for Columbia in the 1930s, as well as just about every major label in existence during his career. He often would record for more than one label at a time and use pseudonyms. While he always would be stuck having to include another re-arrangement of his "hits," including "Satin Doll," Take the 'A' Train" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," a lot of these would be tacked onto the end of a song suite or concept album filled with Ellington's ever-evolving works in the 1950s and '60s.
Those songs paid the bills, but his heart was in the unusually cinemaesque compositions he had been creating since his artistic breakthrough with "Mood Indigo," penned in the 1930s. My favorite of the concept albums here are "The Drum is a Woman," with its evocative cover as well as the startlingly sensuous music contained; and "Duke Ellington's Spacemen: The Cosmic Scene," which included handpicked members from the orchestra swinging hard on a fun and rollicking album devoted to, well, space exploration. The title is apt, as featured Ellington sidemen included the cream of the crop on this date - Clark Terry, one of my favorite hard bop trumpet players, who also happened to also play with Count Basie's band as well; and the fabulous saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, who was instrumental in Ellington's big comeback during the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. You can also hear a lot of Ellington's piano work on this album, which was a complex and mesmerizing history of jazz piano from "stride" to modern modal forms. Ellington could do it all because he had lived it, never stagnated and remained enormously curious about new ways to arrange 12 notes in novel and exciting ways. His bandmates, many who stayed with him for decades, breathed together, having spent their entire careers with Duke on the road or in the studio. It's often been said Ellington would write individual parts for his players based on their individual performing "sound."
The set here also includes "Black, Brown And Beige with Mahalia Jackson," "Ellington's first spiritual work with the gospel great, and the first of many to come.
Ellington's Columbia output established his reputation, and Duke's music was and forever will remain, as he once put it, "beyond category." Highly recommended.