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Duke's Blues Intimations

29 DEC 11 CHRIS SLAWECKI

The Duke Ellington Small Bands' The Intimacy Of The Blues (OJC, 1991) captures a rare glimpse into Duke Ellington's considerable recorded catalog: A view into the smaller ensembles that he led, the quintets and sextets which blossomed into his world famous, large and legendary orchestras. Intimacy features Ellington's piano in two small ensemble sessions that spotlight such renowned Ellington soloists as trumpeter Cat Anderson, organ player Wild Bill Davis, and saxophonists Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves.

Even in this smaller configuration, Intimacy shines with the intricate, almost conversational, sound of the horns talking amongst themselves and with Ellington's erudite yet swinging piano, but you can hear Ellington so much better. You almost never hear him dominate a tune the way his earthy thumping blasts into "Rockochet," pounding its counter-rhythms hard and funky. On "Out South," his piano seems almost effortless, wafting blue clouds of melody and rhythm; more percussive notes march the processional "Soul Country" out of jazz church.

"Kentucky Avenue, A.C." saucily saunters down a bustling Saturday night street, with piano brightly punctuating the horns' bold brassy lines. "Tell Me 'Bout My Baby" rocks a Latin beat, with Cat Anderson unleashing his trademark howls and growls.

In Ellington's Concord catalog, predominantly recordings by his orchestra, there really isn't another title like The Intimacy Of The Blues. Even so, The Intimate Ellington (OJC, 1992) features these same soloists and heads in this same general direction, while The Pianist (OJC, '92) presents piano trios recorded between 1966 and '70.