Duke Ellington

In Box

Phases & Stages

Duke Ellington

The Complete 1936-1940 Variety, Vocalion, and Okeh Small Group Sessions (Mosaic)

Panic sets in initially: The first four discs of Duke Ellington's The Complete Small Group Sessions sequence multiple takes atop one another. Blessedly, the longest track of the entire 7-CD set is five minutes, with another 18 barely more three minutes, and the remaining 154 tracks under even that mark. Thing is, at an average length of 2:30, you're dying to hear the track again (granted, the rare third time not so much). This being jazz, no two takes even try sounding the same, so the effect is one of multiple chances to unravel the magic trick: How'd they do that? The scratches and hiss of the original recordings actually work to this advantage: With the background always shifting, and the foreground going for something equally unique, the outcome doesn't play out like hearing tunes twice, but rather the illusion creates instant déjà vu. That was you and yours swinging in Harlem last lifetime! Once the Ellington Orchestra is broken down into intimate all-starrings, Rex Stewart's laughing cornet hotfoots it center stage as fast as Barney Bigard's figure-skating clarinet on disc I's "Frolic Sam." Bigard's saucy Jazzopators rearrange trombonist Juan Tizol's "Caravan" on their way to "Stompy Jones," while a pair of Ellington piano solos prep the maestro's anchoring Cootie Williams' Rug Cutters on retro immortal "Digga Digga Do." When Duke's on a session, "swing" never sounded like such an abstract concept in the face of the real thing. Discs IV-VII, stunning all, feature a lush preponderance of Johnny Hodges, whose rabbitlike alto – wagging its cottontail one moment and a big, lazy lop-ear the next – underscores the likes of Mary McHugh's golden voice on "I Let a Song Go out of My Heart." Don't let it go out of yours. (Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902: 203/327-7111, www.mosaicrecords.com.)

****

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Music Reviews
Fall Platters
Jeff Lofton
Jericho (Record Review)

Michael Toland, Nov. 29, 2019

Texas Platters
Golden Dawn Arkestra
Darkness Falls on the Edge of Time (Record Review)

Rick Weaver, Sept. 20, 2019

More by Raoul Hernandez
Review: Haunter’s <i>Discarnate Ails</i>
Review: Haunter’s Discarnate Ails
A three-song behemoth from Central Texas death metal unit debut on Profound Lore

May 20, 2022

William Basinski Proves a Rock Star of Experimental Sound
William Basinski Proves a Rock Star of Experimental Sound
Texan auditory stud beguiles Elysium prior to lunar eclipse

May 16, 2022

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle