Music

Duke Ellington: Blues in Orbit

Robert R. Calder

Duke Ellington

Blues in Orbit

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2004-07-13
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

In the vast Ellington discography, Blues in Orbit is a set people have tended to stay fond of. The original vinyl issue combined the results of two dates, December 2 and 3, 1959, with a title track and another laid down in February 1958, plus a date from February '58 with only one trumpet, alto and baritone saxophones and the full midfield trombone trio.

In fact, a full band plays only on the two 1958 titles. Ray Nance was also the sole trumpet in December 1959 -- and did get to play his violin on "C-Jam Blues", rhythmically very different from his work on the early 1940s premiere.

And I might as well mention -- if you ain't confused yet, keep reading -- that since Paul Gonsalves did not play on the second of the December dates there were only four rather than the normal five reeds that night.

The most familiar title is maybe "Blues in Blueprint" with Harry Carney's delicate and finally feather-light pianissimo bass clarinet part a rare perfection. Quite a change is marked with the rasp of Matthew Gee's baritone horn on his co-composed "The Swingers Get the Blues Too", which follows immediately on "Blues in Blueprint" -- or would do if it didn't begin with grounds for a paternity suit, this very bluesy performance having got Gershwin's "Summertime" pregnant with itself.

"The Swinger's Jump" brings back Jimmy Hamilton's forever forthright tenor, which a more sequential review would have mentioned as a highlight on the set's opener, Hamilton's own "Three Js Blues", notable for a lower Hollywood brassy buzz. The once clichéed comparison between his tenor-playing and his clarinet playing is made a little more difficult by his clarinet re-entry following an ensemble scene-change on "Jump". His animation is extreme and he performs somersaults in the stratosphere.

The title track is a jukebox-length two minutes twenty seven seconds. At only four seconds longer, "Villes Ville is the Place Man" celebrates Ellington's ability to coin both the unforgettable dire verbalism (born dated) or simpler-than-you'd-think-possible blues to jam to (conceived swinging).

"Track 360" is a full band roarer, noisy kid brother of "Happy Go Lucky Local". "Sentimental Lady" is a sister of "In a Sentimental Mood", yet another Johnny Hodges feature, begun at the supreme altosaxophonist's most quiet. After a louder passage with orchestra he doesn't quite recover that initial level of lyrical innocence. It is back in "Brown Penny", in an unissued performance with what sounds like a slightly mistimed or misjudged ensemble entry half-way through. If that apparent slight fluff kept the tape in the can, it was as well opened and this refreshing example of the joy of melancholy Hodges released. "Pie Eye's Blues" reinforces the moral demand to note what an amazing musician Ray Nance was, with a collossal tone on the hybrid-like trumpet-cornet which he preferred to more conventional horns. The only fiddler always, and on the dates which provided the bulk of the music here sole Gabriel!

The unissued take of "The Swinger's Blues" opens with Hodges. There's Nance, the fluent underrated modernist trombone of Britt Woodman, Hamilton on tenor sounding Hodges-like as if imitating the absent Gonsalves (whose style was founded on Ben Webster, whose final maturity drew on Hodges). Hamilton's 's gone into his own dirty mode before either Matthew Gee or Booty Wood plays the plunger solo on trombone, doing far more than just let Hamilton swap back to clarinet. "Smada", "Pie-Eye's Blues", and "Sweet and Pungent" (the last two in separate takes) may only bring to mind Ellington's occasional poetic facility in titling things. If it does, you've not heard this music.

The hitherto unreleased other take of "Track 360" brings back the entire band of 1958, in what might have been part of a the project of an extended composition. Extended composition simply wasn't the thing when Blues in Orbit was brought into being as an album. Whereas this is all very recognisably Ellington, it has things in common with a kind of 1940s Count Basie music-making which Shorty Rogers and other California-based giants attempted with individual success. Basie was asked, presumably more than once, about the difference between his band and Ellington's. With that sort of half-lisp which attended his pronouncements, laid-back and timed like his music could be, he uttered the single syllable "Classss".

If he'd had Ellington's verbal habits he might have said that Ellington was the foxiest hedgehog who knew how to do a lot of big things, or many of any size you like.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image