December 9, 2014

THE BEST OF THE BEST CAN'T HELP BUT BE GOOD:

Duke Ellington's Best Album--One of the Best in Jazz--Is Also One of His Least-Known : And on a new reissue, it sounds better than ever. (Fred Kaplan, 12/09/14, Slate)

The best album ever made by Duke Ellington--which is to say, one of the best albums in jazz--is also one of his least-known. It attracted scant attention upon its release, in 1951, and no particular acclaim when reissued on CD in 2004, after decades in out-of-print limbo. Now a leading audiophile record label, Analogue Productions of Salina, Kansas, has brought it out on pristine vinyl (it's also, despite its vintage, one of the best-sounding jazz albums ever), and the time has come to take notice.

It's called Masterpieces by Ellington, and the stuffy title might have been part of the problem. The whole product likely struck jazz fans of the time as baffling, if they noticed it at all. First, it was released on Columbia Records' Masterworks imprint, which was associated with classical music. Second, the cover copy boasted "uncut concert arrangements" of four Ellington songs, including three of his biggest hits from the 1930s ("Mood Indigo," "Sophisticated Lady," and "Solitude"), but the only versions most home listeners knew were the three-minute tracks on 78 rpm discs, so what were these "concert arrangements"?

But the main reason for the album's dim sales, I suspect, was technological. This was Ellington's first 12-inch long-playing record, and one of the very early LPs (as they were called) by any musician. Few consumers, and fewer jazz fans, owned one of the newfangled phonographs that could play these records.

Yet this is also one reason for the album's stunning artistic achievement.



Posted by at December 9, 2014 4:36 PM
  

blog comments powered by Disqus
« THE ENDURANCE OF DEMOCRACY DEMANDS THAT YOU BREAK THE ARMED FORCES: | Main | WE'RE A PURITAN NATION, THERE'S NO ONE FOR SALE: »