Thursday, December 23, 2004

Dashing through the snow

The French CBS series of Duke Ellington material was released like loaves of bread coming out of an oven in the '70s. Some of these volumes were all over the place in terms of combining eras, and, in the case of volume 11, the listener can really hear the change between the style the band favored in the late '40s, slightly over the top and full of juice, and the slicker, more powerful big band machine of later decades, which swings much harder. By the time we get to "Asphalt Jungle Twist" we are way out of the jungle and in the urban atmosphere of jewel thieves, tough cops, and girlfriends that look like Marilyn Monroe, or at least this is the sort of image the swaggering themes and heavy backbeat pulse bring to mind. Actually, the theme was written not for the John Houston film, but for a spin-off television series of the same name. Fans of Ellington sidekick Billy Strayhorn can take note of two of his best tunes here, "Snibor" and the sly "Progressive Gavotte." Jumping in and out of various years' recording sessions also guarantees a changing roster of players, with names such as Clark Terry and Charlie Rouse showing up alongside the usual gang of suspects. So here is a great version of "Jingle Bells" from a 1962 session, with a Paul Gonsalves solo that would sound nice under anyone's Christmas tree.

Duke Ellington - Jingle Bells


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