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Duke Ellington: The Duke in Munich

Any CD featuring Duke Ellington comes with more information than one can digest. Such is the case with The Duke in Munich (Storyville), a previously unissued live concert at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, in November 1958. The band was at its peak, still airborne from its highly successful concert that produced the classic 1956 album At Newport. Virtually every sideman had become a household name (well, at least in hip households) by this time, and this Munich concert was devoted to those elements of Ellingtonia that had already become standards.

Two extended suites, “Black and Tan Fantasy” and “Diminuendo in Blue,” are featured on this CD, and as he introduced the best of the Ellington/Strayhorn songbook, Duke was in his usual, sophisticated high spirits. So, what could go wrong with this disc? The most important thing of all: the sound is dreadful. More’s the pity since guys like Ray Nance, Clark Terry, Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Hamilton, Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves and Sam Woodyard swung their unmentionables off. The band even inserted a way-up unison quote from Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” on “Newport Up” as if to say, “Yeah, we can play bop licks, too.”

Another complaint: Duke decided to insert an “and then I wrote” medley in which some of his best-known creations ran as short as 18, 17, even 14 seconds! A few actually ran over a minute. It hurts to say this, but between the disappointing sound and the frustrating sampler, there’s no way the CD can be recommended.

Originally Published