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Duke Ellington: The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection 1951-1958

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In gathering from a limited time frame a selection of what can be regarded in one way or another as concept albums, The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection 1951-1958 enjoyably demonstrates how context can influence the way we hear things. Ranging from ambitious themed projects to extended remakes of early classics, this nine-disc collection emphasizes how restlessly wide-ranging the maestro was creatively-even at a time when it was being said his best days were behind him.

A year into the decade, three of his major studs, saxophonist Johnny Hodges, trombonist Lawrence Brown and drummer Sonny Greer, bolted the Ellington stable (as Duke would bolt Columbia for Capitol in 1953 for three years). Ellington wasn’t turning out major works with his old regularity. And even after the wildly popular Ellington at Newport (1956) re-established his royal stature and landed him on the cover of Time magazine, he was not the surefire commercial force he once was.

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