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Louis Armstrong/Duke Ellington: The Great Summit Complete Sessions

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Ellington and Armstrong were contemporaries who enjoyed long, successful careers, but while their paths crossed often on the road, they rarely met in the studio. This 1961 meeting was originally issued as two LPs, Together for the First Time and The Great Reunion of…, pairing Ellington with Armstrong’s working group (oh, if only it had been the other way around!), including clarinetist Barney Bigard, trombonist Trummy Young, bassist Mort Herbert and drummer Danny Barcelona. While Bigard and Young have their moments, it’s Armstrong’s exceptional vocal and trumpet work, and Ellington’s subtly modern intros, solos and comping that make this a special session.

The The Great Summit’s CDs are neatly divided: all the master takes from the two LPs are on disc one, the alternate takes, false starts and in-studio chatter are on disc two. Blue Note has done a good job with the 96kHz/24-bit remastering and the only sonic drawbacks are the bass is still somewhat boomy and there’s some print-through from the original session tapes. Dan Morgenstern’s informative liner notes add some necessary context.

Those who’ve heard the original LPs know the many highlights, among them Armstrong’s vocal variations on “Mood Indigo,” Ellington’s gem-like intros and outros on “The Mooch,” Armstrong’s fierce trumpet roar on “It Don’t Mean a Thing…” and the gorgeous piano and trumpet duet intro to “Solitude.”

On disc two the listener gets to be a fly on the studio wall as Duke and Pops discuss tempos, order of solos and endings. The false starts are particularly fascinating. One take of “I’m Beginning to See the Light” is blown because the piano player goofs, another because the trumpeter enters in the wrong key, explaining “I’m in the wrong gear!”

For the casual fan, disc one will provide the thrills, but disc two offers serious fans insights into the process of collaboration between the two most important jazz musicians of the 20th century.