Duke Ellington – ‘Live At The Berlin Jazz Festival 1969-1973’ – London Jazz News

Duke Ellington – Live At the Berlin Jazz Festival 1969 -1973

(The Lost Recordings TLR2204041. Album review by Len Weinreich)

By their own admission, the record companies are clumsy, cowardly and negligent. And the proof lies in the titles of released albums which inform us that at one time or another, performances recorded by such illustrious jazz musicians as Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and Stan Getz, even whole Blue Note sessions have been misplaced, overlooked or just plain lost. And, presto, suddenly found. Because, now (pause for elaborate fanfare), hidden away on a cobwebbed shelf in Berlin, an intrepid archivist recently discovered two lost performances by a conductor named Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington.

Where should we lay the blame for this gross negligence? The Cold War? Or are we pointing an accusing finger at mislabeled tape containers? Botched filing systems? Sloppy office staff? Or does the guilt lie with the record label marketing departments who learned that adding the description ‘lost’ to an album title exerts a powerful magnetic attraction on obsessive collectors? It’s up to you to draw your own conclusions.

The dozen tracks (13 are listed, but one of them is nothing more than a few seconds of introduction spoken by a tap dancer Baby Lawrence) on this album may have been genuinely lost/misplaced/ignored as they do not appear in my Lord’s discography. They originated in two low-key sessions, both recorded live at the Berlin Jazz Festival: the first in 1969 with the full band, and the second in 1973, a few months before Duke’s death. The problems abound. Perversely, the latest session appears first. Plus, on what appears to be a prestige presentation (understated graphics, Duke’s ornate autograph reproduced in gold, textured CD case, liner notes in three languages), the curation is dismal. The meager personnel lists are incomplete, omitting the dancer Baby Lawrencewhich has an extended tap solo and an organist Bill Davis wildwhich appears on satin dollas well as the entire famous trombone section, names possibly obscured by ancient grime, dense cobwebs, and a partially consumed pretzel.

But let’s talk about the music, taking a sensible chronological approach. A woody skirl of Russell Procope the clarinet evokes a feeling of the latter-day jungle, with Duke’s feverish imagination of The Most Beautiful Africana tutti breath of the group giving way to a bow bass function for Victor Gaskins before Burry’s signature growl by Harry Carney incomparable baritone saxophone, all signed with a sly coda on the ducal keyboard. With Vernon Duke and Ira Gershwin I can’t start bears all the signs of a hasty assembly ad-lib performance: a solo trumpet accompanied by Duke and the rhythm section, the rest of the band remaining silent. Annoyingly, the trumpeter is unidentified, or even unrecognized, by the spouting, but uninformative, cover notes. It doesn’t look like cootie williams. Nor a high-grade specialist anderson cat. I don’t remember Mercer, Ellington’s son, who was in the section at the time, taking solos. Maybe either Rolf Erikson Where Benny Bailey, who both blew with the band at times during the 1969 European tour. Will we ever know? The puzzle could occupy ducal discographers for years.

The Maestro presents Juan Tizol’s Caravan with briobut this first example of jazz exoticism receives a shortcut: a single chorus strewn with tantalizing dissonances before moving on to the perpetually sinister voice of the clarinet/bass clarinet/trombone wah-wah of indigo in mood. El Gato is duke’s jazz double pass, a moving decor for At Cat Anderson’s trumpet rat trap mouth producing dizzying acrobatics high above the massive brass choir and Rufus Jones’ atmospheric toms. Duke dedicates his last popular hit, satin dollwith Hammond B3 bulking agent Bill Davis wild (a newcomer to the organization) with encouraging shouts of vocal support and other coloratura squeaks of Anderson’s trumpet. To finish, Meditation is precisely that, a thoughtful solo journey through the piano keyboard, as heard in Duke’s Sacred Concerts programs.

At the 1973 session, Duke had only six months to live. Yet even in the face of a much diminished group, his verve and enthusiasm did not seem to be dampened. The opening track is a bluesy trio Piano improvisation n°1, a contemplative sketch of the Master before he leads us to more familiar ground, a light-hearted waltzing version of the orchestra’s theme, Billy Strayhorn Take train Aassign solo tasks to the trumpeter “Money” Johnson. Paul Gonsalves to tenor and Harry Carney in baritone resolutely attempt the arduous task of representing a complete section of Ellington reeds. On Pitter’s panther patterbass player Joe Benjamin skillfully duets with the pianist, reminiscent of the groundbreaking performance 33 years earlier by his famous predecessor, Jimmy Blanton, daddy of the modern jazz double bass. duke sophisticated lady is a ring-breathing party piece for Harry Carney, the first colossus of the baritone saxophone. The soundscape transforms as we experience “Jazz Tap Percussion,” a five-minute blues for two feet focused on the sound and rhythm of tap dancing rather than visual movement, expertly performed by Baby Lawrence, dancing star in Duke’s Sacred Concerts. It certainly shook the West Berlin audience.

As Duke aficionado for many decades (meeting my wife Frances, the Great Man whispered: “Four kisses. One on each cheek”), I’m glad someone discovered the dusty tape boxes hidden deep in a forgotten shelf, with nothing left to lose. My opinion ? Uneven production perhaps, but each surviving shard of Ellington has value beyond rubies.

List of tracks:

  • Piano improvisation No. 1; Take the “A” train; Pitter’s Panther Patter; sophisticated lady; Introduction by baby Laurence; Sandals
  • The Most Beautiful African; El Gato; I can’t start; Caravan; Mood Indigo; satin doll; Meditation.
  • Tracks 1 to 6: Duke Ellington, piano; Joe Benjamin, bass; Harold “Money” Johnson, trumpet; Paul Gonsalves, tenor saxophone; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Baby Laurence, tap dancer; Quintem ‘Rocky’ White Jr., drums, recorded in West Berlin, Germany on 02.11.73.

    Tracks 7 to 13: Duke Ellington Orchestra conducted by Duke Ellington, piano and including Cat Anderson, Cootie Williams and Mercer Ellington, trumpets; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Harold Ashby, Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Paul Gonsalves and Harry Carney, reeds; Wild Bill Davis, organ; Victor Gaskin, bass; Rufus Jones, drums, recorded in West Berlin, Germany, 08.11.69.

LINK: To buy Duke Ellington – Live At the Berlin Jazz Festival 1969 -1973

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