Monday, June 18, 2007

Check It: Duke Ellington's New Orleans Suite























...If you’ve relegated Duke Ellington’s body of work to your Ken Burns incidental music file and consider his contributions to jazz to be a relic like, say, the Rosetta Stone, to be acknowledged as important but now rendered useless to the language because the lexicon has moved past wherever it was previously—if you park your car in that garage, then I’d suggest you pick up a copy of New Orleans Suite which was released in 1971…This LP is one of the swingin-est efforts from the Duke's thick songbook and demonstrates that although the times may change, some things don’t—Ellington and co. were still as relevant when they threw this one down as they ever were…


...The Germans have a word for the way that Ellington composed his music: Fingerspitzengefühl which literally means—to possess a steady or smooth hand at something, an instinct for dealing with a situation and I think that Ellington’s musical instincts are dutifully exemplified in New Orleans Suite which holds some of the maestro's best...The highlights begin from the jump with "Blues for New Orleans" which opens the set and once that brass refrain/ sax solo takes you to the proverbial "there" Wild Bill Davis will churchify your mind with the Hammond B-3 and reel you right on back in...After slowing everything down with a flute-heavy "Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies", "Portrait of Louis Armstrong" will make the big toe shoot up in your boot, as Little Richard might say-- you'll hear some of the finest brass section hooks and swerves ever captured on acetate during the 70s but it doesn't stop there because later, "Second Line" will inform that Ellington's posse was still tighter than a drum, even if the world had moved on to fusion and pop material by that time...the appropriately placed "Portrait of Mahalia Jackson", another flute-joint, moodily closes out the set and serves as a sonic wave good bye as four years after it was pressed, Ellington passed away in New York City...there's a little bit of music history wrapped up in these recordings as it contains the last recordings ever cut by alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges who passed away during the recording sessions. Too, you'll hear Ellington stalwarts throw it down like a pride of lions; the horns section alone boasts jazz workhorses like Paul Gonsalves (tenor sax), Russell Procope (alto clarinet/ sax), Johnny Hodges (alto sax) and Cootie Williams (trumpet) among many others...
























...it don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing: New Orleans Suite contains a couple of great examples of what a "swinging" ensemble sounds like...the drums make your ass want to do one thing and the horn pulls you elsewhere...that's it, yo...Check out "Portrait of Louis Armstrong" for example, first everyone's groovin' together and then, BOOM, they diverge (while still harmoniously together on that next level)...the swinging starts around :08 and even moreso around :19 to :30 (you'll really hear what I'm talking about more clearly around 1:06-ish, so wait for it)-- by 1:27, it's all over, son, either you'll feel it or you won't )...




















...everyone has their mental list of "take-this-one-if-there's-a-fire" albums and for most of the artists in my collection I have one...in Ellington's case there's two: New Orleans Suite and Live At Newport 1956 because both albums take decades of artistic refinement, imbues that with ingredients from (what was then ) the new and bridges whatever gap lay in between the two points; inextricably connecting their coordinates by acoustically iterating the importance of reflection and exploration of the unchartered...yeah, that's right, just like the Rosetta Stone...




***click header to check a couple more tracks I threw into the comments on my MOG***

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