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Duke Ellington: At the Hurricane

Ellington’s Blanton-Webster band was short-lived, as the bassist Jimmy Blanton passed away of tuberculosis at 23 in mid-1942. Ben Webster stayed on for a while longer, and he was one of the featured soloists when the Ellington Orchestra opened a six-month engagement in 1943 at the Hurricane Club in New York City. Three previously unreleased radio broadcasts from April and June of ’43 are now out as Duke Ellington at the Hurricane (Storyville), and these live performances present a mix of classics, lesser-known gems and novelty numbers. By this time, vocalist Betty Roche had replaced Ivie Anderson, and she gets the spotlight on “Hayfoot Strawfoot,” “I Don’t Want Anybody at All” and the undeservedly obscure masterpiece “I Don’t Know What Kind of Blues I Got.” Alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges’ perfectly sly glissandos are heard to great effect on the three versions of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and there are two seriously swinging renditions of the hip blues “Main Stem,” announced here as “Altitude.” For romantics who like an occasional slow dance, there’s Lawrence Brown’s feature on “It Can’t Be Wrong” and Shorty Baker’s beautifully melodic playing on “Could It Be You?” Ray Nance demonstrates his violin prowess on “Moon Mist” and “Goin’ Up,” the latter an impressive uptempo tune from the film Cabin in the Sky. There are balance problems due to microphone placement, and Duke’s piano is slightly off-mike, but the transfers by Jack Towers are quite good, even with some wear in the original acetate lacquer discs. The insightful liner notes by Ken Steiner provide welcome context, but note to the booklet designer: please consider putting tune titles in the text in italics or bold for easier searching.

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