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Various Artists: Gentle Duke

The first is an intriguing collection of recordings by Ellington stars astutely drawn from no less than six different labels of the Fantasy family by Bob Porter. The outstanding track is of “Mood Indigo,” for besides valuable statements by Clark Terry, Paul Gonsalves and Britt Woodman, there is a unique one by Ellington’s supreme soloist, Johnny Hodges. The set opens with the surprise combination of Shorty Baker and Budd Freeman, plus another bossman from Washington on piano-Claude Hopkins. Taft Jordan appears very creditably and consistently three times, and Ben Webster in a very personal version of “Come Sunday” as well as with trombonist Bill Harris on “In a Mellotone.” There are a couple of cute Betty Roche vocals, a masterly “Concerto for Cootie” by Cootie Williams with some Miami cats, and a sextet version of “Things Ain’t” on which Hilton Jefferson is the alto soloist.

The Classics set is the latest in the label’s massive, chronological program of Ellington’s music. Apart from seven reasonably familiar Victor items, there are ten performances recorded live for V-Discs in Chicago, Toledo and Evansville during the summer of 1945. There are splendid things here, such as good, fresh versions of old classics like “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree” and “Ring Dem Bells.” On Buck Clayton’s “Hollywood Hangover,” the brass shows its ability to mix it in Kansas City’s style of riffing. Then there’s a creamy “Sugar Hill Penthouse,” as well as two-part excursions on both “Frankie and Johnny” and “New World a-Comin’.” Altogether, a collector’s prize package.

Originally Published