Two legends combine for a jazz classic.
Duke Ellington & John Coltrane – Impulse Records (1963)/Verve Records/Universal Music Group B0033799-01 [Acoustic Sounds Series] 180-gram stereo vinyl, 35:05 ****1/2:
(Duke Ellington – piano; John Coltrane – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Jimmy Garrison – double bass; Aaron Bell – double bass; Elvin Jones – drums; Sam Woodyard – drums)
It is a significant event when two jazz legends come together in the studio. Duke Ellington was perhaps the greatest jazz band leader, composer and arranger of all time. His blend of complex sophisticated and urban blues contexts made songs like “Take The A Train”, “In A Sentimental Mood” and “Satin Doll” touchstones of American culture. Every jazz artist was eager to record with him, including Charles Mingus, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Max Roach and Coleman Hawkins. By the early 1960’s John Coltrane had transitioned from being a sideman (in particular as part of the first Miles Davis Quintet) to becoming an ascendant figure on the modern jazz scene.
Verve/Universal Music Group has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of Duke Ellington And John Coltrane. For this 1962 Impulse Records session (and there was only one), there is a mix of Coltrane And Ellington sidemen. On the surface, this seems like an unusual collaboration, but the chemistry is there. Side 1 opens with one of Ellington’s most beloved numbers, “In A Sentimental Mood”. Duke opens with a sultry vamp with chord changes. Almost in counterpoint, Coltrane enters on tenor with a tender, moving solo. Ellington executes a trademark, concise run, as the rhythm section (Aaron Bell and Elvin Jones) executes a subtle tempo uptick. As Trane returns, they are in quartet lockstep. A second Ellington opus (one of five), “Take The Coltrane” has Coltrane pushing the tonal and hard bop edge. Ellington’s innate phrasing is complementary, showcasing a bluesy countenance to the jam. Jones and Garrison (who also solos) are propulsive, matching the intensity. Every piano riff is phrased carefully, but in an organic way. Coltrane’s lone songwriting credit “Big Nick” exudes an upbeat, finger-snapping groove as Coltrane picks up the soprano saxophone and starts to wail. Ellington follows with his trademark swaying elegance. On “Stevie” the brilliant pianist displays complicated nuances before handing it over to a passionate tenor run. On this cut, Bell returns with drummer Sam Woodyard. Ellington is adept at easing into a jam and connecting with his fellow musicians.
Side B kicks off with a feathery Billy Strayhorn ballad, “My Little Brown Book”. Coltrane’s lead is expressive and warm with a late-night vibe. Ellington’s almost classical-infused interlude at the end is compelling. With bluesy swing and dazzling intonation, “Angelica” features Ellington’s instrumental acuity in the introduction. As Coltrane joins, Duke slides over as a member of the rhythm section and engages in “dialogues” with the saxophonist, punctuated by well-timed chords. On the second verse, Trane ramps up the instrumental vigor. A gentle coda is a nice finishing touch. “The Feeling Of Jazz is a terrific finale for this album. Steeped in blues and gentle swing, Coltrane’s tenor is soulful and the overall bluesy-jazz sentiment is palpable. His extended solo puts him squarely in the spotlight.
Duke Ellington And John Coltrane lives up to the high expectations associated with a pairing of two icons. Both players represent their musical personalities in harmonious tandem. The re-mastered 180-gram stereo mix is vibrant, with Coltrane on the left, drums on the right and piano strategically in the center.
Side 1: In A Sentimental Mood; Take The Coltrane; Big Nick; Stevie
Side 2: My Little Brown Book; Angelica; The Feeling Of Jazz.
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