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Duke Ellington: Berlin ’65/ Paris ’67

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It never ceases to amaze serious students of Ellingtonia how some critics and historians, in their justifiable enthusiasm over the band’s glorious triumphs 40 to 70 years ago, could denigrate Duke’s latter day work, especially the many brilliant concert performances that have been coming to light with happy regularity in recent times. Previously unreleased, the contents of this particular recording originate in J.A.T.P. concerts staged at the Sportpalast in February 1965 and the Salle Pleyel in March 1967. Save for two exceptions on trumpet and drums, the personnel was the same for both events. Of primary importance, though, is the notable absence of the obligatory medleys of hits that, in all of their inescapable redundancy elsewhere, have strained the patience of even the most faithful of Duke’s devotees.

On the other hand, while there are no “new” pieces presented, we are treated to superb performances of Strayhorn’s “Midriff,” featuring the leader’s piano and Lawrence Brown’s trombone, “Chelsea Bridge,” with lush, Websterian Paul Gonsalves tenor, and “Blood Count,” a spine-tingling showcase for Johnny Hodges, who encores on the bright 1937 “Harmony In Harlem,” “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” and “Drag,” vintage 1963. Following an extended opening statement by Duke and the band, Jimmy Hamilton’s immaculate clarinet is spotlighted on the second portion of the 14-minute “Ad Lib On Nippon,” while “Happy Go Lucky Local,” another Gonsalves exposition on the blues, the classic “Rockin’ In Rhythm,” with Carney’s clarinet, Brown and Cat Anderson, and “(The) Second Portrait Of The Lion,” Duke’s humbly offered tribute to his mentor, complete this highly recommended program.