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Duke Ellington: The Treasury Shows, Vol. 11

It’s nostalgic, even campy, but it’s Duke, so it’s worth exploring: a two-CD mishmash, unevenly engineered and hastily culled from live radio broadcasts during 1945. In all, 47 tracks sprinkled liberally with pitches for Victory Bonds from Ellington himself. Considering that each CD exceeds 71 minutes, there are plenty of highlights.

Of the three “‘A’ Train”s on the first CD, track 10 captures the band at its best. “Mood Indigo” is fascinating for the solo work by trumpeter Rex Stewart, clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton, Ellington’s pianistics, plus the fine backing of bassist Junior Raglin. “Pianistically Allied” features the two-piano team of Ellington and Strayhorn. Trombonist Lawrence Brown and tenorist Johnny Hodges bring Strayhorn’s moody “After All” to life, as does Joe Nanton’s trombone plunger work on “Black and Tan Fantasy.” As warm as the trombone soli is on “On the Alamo,” check out Hodges’ noodling in the background.

For all the instrumental greatness, the vocals here are somewhat disappointing. Al Hibbler’s intonation is erratic; his best effort is “Flamingo.” Kay Davis’ training backfires and her cultured tones just don’t fit with the band’s spontaneity. But Joya Sherrill is more successful with “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” and Ray Nance is a perfect fit crooning “Jump for Joy.”

Originally Published