For this CD reissue of a Riverside set, trumpeter Clark Terry and some of the top Ellington sidemen of the period (trombonist Britt Woodman, altoist Johnny Hodges, tenor-saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, Tyree Glenn on vibes, bassist Jimmy Woode and drummer Sam Woodyard) perform eight songs associated with Duke, but with fresh arrangements. There is plenty of solo space for C.T., Gonsalves and Hodges, and the arrangements by Terry and Mercer Ellington cast a new light on some of the warhorses; highlights include "C-Jam Blues," "Cottontail," "Mood Indigo" and "Come Sunday."
All Music Guide
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This is an album that quite obviously, on the face of it, is very considerably concerned with paying homage to Duke Ellington. But recorded tributes to Duke have long been pretty easy to come by; ever since it was first realized, many years ago, that "Ellington" was a selling word. Even making use of strongly Ellington-linked musicians is hardly unique. But this LP, as put together and led by Clark Terry, very definitely does have something unusual to offer, something rather more subtle and a great deal more musically rewarding than any mere routinely affectionate run-through of Duke's compositions. Precisely as the album title puts it, this is Duke with a Difference.
For the intent here-and it's a concept that indicates an unusually deep and perceptive respect for Ellington and his work-is to demonstrate that Duke's is a universal music, not a special music. That it has the kind of strength and structure that can enable it to stand up wonderfully well when arranged-and improvised on -in a 'normal' jazz context. That, in short, it is jazz and not just some sort of exotic hot-house flower.
Ellingtonia is, and has been for some thirty years, pretty much of a complete-unto-itself unit (made up of Duke's writing; his own arrangements and those of Billy Strayhorn and just a few others; the sound of certain star soloists). For this reason, it has never been easy to dissociate Duke's compositions from that readily-identifiable Ellington sound and style. Other jazzmen playing his tunes so often seem inhibited by the remembrance of how Duke treated them. And even the famed "Ellington unit" recordings of the 1930s were primarily smaller reflections of the big band, pointing up the fact that even when Duke's sidemen play and record away from the framework of his orchestra, they very often carry with them the stamp of the Ellington sound. Very often- but not always. For this album is devoted to being a happy exception to the general rule. . .
The basic idea here, then, is to combine Ellington tunes, and people associated with his band, with independently creative, non-Ellington jazz treatment of the music. The treatment consists of two outstandingly rich and haunting scorings by the Duke's highly talented son, Mercer Ellington, and a half-dozen Terry charts designed to feature free and different blowing by Clark, tenorman Paul Gonsalves, and one of the all-time jazz greats, altoist Johnny Hodges.
Duke's music responds remarkably and excitingly to this sort of approach, as Clark and the others were sure it would. Particularly in view of the fact that Terry has been an important member of the Ellington band since '51, Gonsalves since '50, and Hodges for all except a few years of the time ever since 1928 (!), it was a highly stimulating kind of holiday for them to be able to take off in this way on numbers they had previously dealt with only within the framework of the celebrated Ellington tight-knit musical discipline. Listen, for example, to the impeccable-toned Hodges making a deliberately 'dirty' entry into his solo on Mood Indigo. That's a good clue to the overall feeling, with Johnny demonstrating just how timeless and unrestricted his jazz greatness actually is, with Gonsalves coming through as a driving, swinging-modern soloist, and with Terry proving once again that he is (as critics like "Nat Hentoff and Leonard Feather have been insisting) one of the very best and most unfairly under-rated of today's trumpets.
A note on the personnel: All five of the horns, plus bassist Woode and drummer Woodyard, are members of the current Ellington orchestra. Billy Strayhorn has been associated with the Duke, as his chief arranger, since 1939, and his sensitive piano style has been heard on occasions with the band and frequently in small-unit recordings, (Take the A Train, the Ellington band's long time theme and the only tune on the LP not written by the Duke, is a Strayhorn composition.)
Marian Bruce, who has sung with the band and has appeared in many clubs from New York to Paris, will shortly have a Riverside album of her own. Luther Henderson has written arrangements for Ellington at various times since 1944, was Lena Home's accompanist, and in 1957 became musical director of Polly Bergen's network TV show.
A note on line-up variations: Terry, Woode and Wood-yard appear on all selections. Gonsalves, Woodman and Glenn are on all except In a Sentimental Mood and Come Sunday, which were made at the July 29 session; Strayhorn and Jackson appear only on those two selections. Hodges is on all numbers except Cottontail, A Train and Mellotone. Glenn also plays the first trombone solo on Cottontail.
- Orrin Keepnews