Duke Ellington and Count Basie may have only sported titles of the barony, but they were both kings in my book…and thousands if not millions if not tens of millions of others'. The Jazzhaus label has been at pains to release a mountain of Grade A, prime, killer live jazz works that stop the listener in his or her tracks and force a pause in the too often overamplified worship of present-day talents. After all, I dare you to name me someone of Ellington's stature presently composing and performing. Ya cain't, Bertram, and that tells ya somethin'. Yeah, we have stellar acts, but even Wynton Marsalis can't capture the Ellington mystique…nor should he. Certain lights shine brightly through the ages and no amount of intelligence, art, or emulation will ever quite manage to cage them a second time. They're statements of unique vision and personality.
This '67 gig cames from Germany's Liederhalle Stuttgart and arises from a much longer set, but we may praise the gods of Music Heaven that this long 73-minute extravaganza is available at all. Many thought it lost to memory, and the date boasted such baddest actors as Cootie Williams, Rufus Jones, Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, and many others. There's no such thing as even mediocre Ellington, everything the man touched turned to purest sonic gold, and this is no exception. You can listen to each cut over and over and always discover new things. He and his band were the crème de la crème, connoting all that comes with it. Half the songs pass the 6-minute mark, giving plenty of elbow room for great chops and sonorous backdrops. A couple even go beyond 10 minutes, imbuing continuing permutations with rich variations.
Those were such unique times. I often take the Marxist view that pure economics have robbed us down through the ages in such things. Sure, that spiral meant a much more dynamic concentration of the personal and individual as the baton passed from orchestra to chamber hall to power trio, but the era that saw Goodman, Ellington, Dorsey, Shaw, Kenton, Basie, and a small legion of big band orchestras pretty much also much closed the book on such ensembles, and, because of that, discs like this become ever more precious. Looking to Papa Karl once more, we can count our blessings in the technologies that created and then rescued these providential events, bringing bounty to as many as possible. The aficionado can only pray that there's lots more where this came from, and, if Jazzhaus' record so far is any indication, there certainly is. Try not to drool too much until the next one: if you're dehydrated by the time it issues, you won't be able to leap, shout, and dance the happy hoedown in the back parlor.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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