The Complete RCA Victor Mid-Forties Recordings 1944-1946
Remastered, Box Set
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This three-CD set is a portion of the extraordinary 24-CD set issued by RCA in 1999 as The Centennial Edition: The Complete Duke Ellington RCA Victor Recordings and it benefits from the tremendous archival and restoration work involved in that project. It's a full 210 minutes of music recorded in a period of just 20 months between December 1944 and September 1946, an in-depth portrait of a musical giant immediately following a two-year hiatus from commercial recording due to the musicians' union ban. Since last recording, the orchestra had made its Carnegie Hall debut, performing "Black, Brown, & Beige," Ellington's most ambitious work. Further, his collaboration with orchestrator Billy Strayhorn, begun in 1940, had continued to develop. Ellington had been building a repertoire and an orchestra since the 1920s, and he was answerable to both the demands of popular fashion and his own creative muse. In fact, they were inextricably combined. He required popular success to maintain the orchestra that was the instrument of his most ambitious compositions, and that duality is apparent here.
The set begins with "I'm Beginning to See the Light," one of Ellington's most popular songs and one he'd been anxious to record, and it also includes the recorded portions of the multipart "Black, Brown & Beige" and "The Perfume Suite." There are new versions of older masterpieces like "Solitude," as well as a series of W.C. Handy songs. It was a period when the Ellington band had a full complement of singers, including Al Hibbler, Joya Sherill, and Kay Davis, both for Duke's own songs (an almost choral version of "It Don't Mean a Thing") and popular fare like "My Heart Sings." Among the intriguing diversions are two one-piano duets with Strayhorn and a cross-town exchange program that found Ellington and Tommy Dorsey appearing as guest soloists with each other's bands on the same day. Throughout, the band is magnificent, with brilliant section work and a host of stunning soloists. Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, and "Tricky Sam" Nanton had been associates since the '20s, while trumpeters Taft Jordan and Cat Anderson, clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton, and tenor saxophonist Al Sears had been added to the band since they last recorded. It's an engrossing experience for anyone fascinated with Ellington's music and a remarkable window on a brief period in his great career. --Stuart Broomer
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birthday in 1999, this one features another special and challenging part of the great
jazz meastro's legacy. Recorded and presented in their 78 sets just after World War
II finally ended, here are three majestic big band recorded sessions that were added
in The Complete RCA Victor Mid-Forties Recordings (1944-1946), the superb time-
honoured 3-CD set that had been digitally-remastered in their complete format. And
as a special gesture, I would like to include a review on each of the recorded session
presented here in this review, beginning with this one.
I'm Beginning To See The Light. (1945)
"A Bold And Challenging Conclusion For The Duke!"
After taking his part in the World War II effort with his Carnegie Hall concerts held
between 1943 and 1944 to support the Soviet effort in their victorious (and extremely
harsh) fight against the Nazis, Duke Ellington returned to RCA Records in December
of 1944 to resume his recording career. For the first of three recorded sessions from
the mid-1940's, I'm Beginning To See The Light is a richly textured big band session
that showcase The Ellington Sound in it's stunning and time-honoured setting, which
make this such a unique memorable listening experience. Beginning with the breezy
ballad I Ain't Got Nothing But The Blues, the enduring and optimistic track set concl-
ude on other classic hits like the title track (also a huge hit for Harry James in 1944),
Don't You Know I Care, Carnegie Blues, Blue Cellophane, a four-part medley of the
Black, Brown And Beige suite (in which he premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1943), In A
Sentimental Mood, Otto Make That Riff Staccato and several second versions of his
early classics. Featuring Ray Nance on violin- trumpet, Joe `Tricky Sam' Nanton on
trombone, star alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, baritone saxophone virtuoso Harry
Carney and a lovely trio of big band singers, you will find I'm Beginning To See The
Light to be such a captivating and satisfying labour of love that truly ranks as one of
his best works that will remain as lyrical and enduring as ever.
With the review for this big band session well-taken care of, here is another review
for this magnificent big band classic session that truly rank as one of his most highly
acclaimed masterworks, and here it is.
Sophisticated Lady. (1945)
"His Most Challenging And Accomplished Masterwork Yet!"
With Duke Ellington and His Orchestra enjoying their comeback to RCA Records
in the mid-1940's as World War II have finally came to a victorious end, the big band
titan released another excellent recorded session that consists of other chart-topping
hits and other classic hits done with rewarding expectations. Sophisticated Lady is a
time-honoured masterwork that bring the great jazz meastro toward a higher level of
first class musicianship and audio-based versatility which swings harder with calliber
force as well as swooning harmony which he handle with electrifying force done with
vitriolic arranging. Beginning on his high-flying second take on his 1932 Top Ten hit
It Don't Mean A Thing If You Ain't Got That Swing, the astonishing track set procede
swiftly on other memorable songs, like the beautifully-crafted second reindition of his
1933 hit Sophisticated Lady, Tonight I Shall Sleep (with A Smile On My Face), The
Minor Goes Muggin', I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart, Jumpin' Room Only, Things
Ain't What They Used To Be and Every Hour On The Hour, which end with Ellington
and Billy Strayhorn at the piano performing two 1946 duet hits. What is ironic about
Sophisticated Lady is the way it features an array of sweet big band music that rings
with romance, sophistication and uplifting voices from the big band singers from his
orchestra, while the other tracks rock with sheer delight and striking merit, so with a
rising young Buddy Rich featured, here is your chance to own this timeless classic.
Pretty Woman. (1946) "A Lyrical And Uplifting Classic!
With Duke Ellington and His Orchestra scoring high on the record charts during
return to RCA Records, they presented another recorded session which to this day
deserves to get even greater recognition in just the same way his classic works do.
Not to be confused of the classic Roy Orbison love ballad and the 1990 damsel in
distress romantic comedy classic of the same name, this slick big band classic that
was released in 1946 on it's 78 set and released on own LP format in 1965. Pretty
Woman present The Duke in a colourful and rather specialized surrounding that he
handles with such grace and serendipity splendor that rank up as one of his finest
achievements. Beginning with the uplifting opening track Rockabye River, the track
set concludes well on other original classic songs, such as Suddenly It Jumped, the
hauntingly eclectic Translucency, A Gathering In The Clearing, You Don't Love Me
No More, the enduring Blues Is The Number, Esquire Swank, Blutopia and even the
title track. As a proud part from the 3-CD set The Complete RCA Victor Mid-Forties
Recordings: 1944-1946 (where it included the recorded sessions I'm Beginning To
See The Light and Sophisticated Lady), what you even get from Pretty Woman are
excellent takes of classic pop or jazz standards like Lover Man; Beale Street Blues;
I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance; their up-roarous take on Just You, Just Me and
Royal Garden Blues, until it ends with the original hit Midriff, which adds to the topsy-
turvy success and uproarous mixture for this big band hit that will truly be a special
and enduring part of his spectacular legacy.
Now that I have concluded on the reviews on those timeless recorded sessions,
I will be quite sure that you will find The Complete RCA Victor Mid-Forties Recordings
(1944-1946) to be a siginificant and wonderful 3-CD set. However, do you also know
that you can create your set of single CD editions of those great full-lengh recorded
sessions? Yes you can and it here is how you can do it: First, you go your 'my music'
department on your computer, create a file for each of the recorded sessions, drag
the tracks that belong to it in the file and click onto "'musicians' name'" album covers
on the internet and choose the right album cover that perfectly matches it with and
bring an online copy of it in the file (if they do have the original album covers for the
big band sessions, but if they don't you have to stick with the original 3-CD CD
cover instead). And their you have it.
I am a composer as well as a performer. Listening to Ellington encouraged me to keep thinking big in my compositions. Most of the time, my small ensemble work is either originally or eventually arranged in a big band setting.
I think that anyone who is an aficionado of American Classical music, as Ellington coined it, would be remiss to not have this collection.
One day, it can happen. I hope and pray that it will, but today I am still just a bill.
This collection replaces 1988's "Black, Brown, & Beige," a similar 3CD set of his recorded RCA Victor work between 1944 and 1946. Unlike that earlier set, this set compiles everything Ellington recorded in those years for RCA Victor, including a pair of trios and another pair of piano duets with his brilliant collaborator, Billy Strayhorn. Most importantly, this 3CD set has brilliant sound that is astoundingly better than the "Black, Brown, & Beige" set. Rather than using heavy, NoNoise processing, this set uses noise reduction sparingly and tastefully, and most importantly they went to great lengths securing only the finest sources for this set. That means they don't shortchange us with analogue copies of old 78's, a practice BMG/RCA has been notorious for on past box sets.
Of course, the most important thing about this set is the music. It's not at the level of Ellington's early 40's recordings (but then again, few bodies of work can equal those recordings in terms of sustained quality, brilliance, and influence). These years were some of Ellington's toughest in light of constant personnel changes, like the unfortunate departure of Ben Webster and the tragic death of Jimmy Blanton. Nevertheless, this is still an essential Ellington set, collecting some marvelous recordings like "I'm Beginning To See The Light," "Caravan," and most importantly a great studio recording (albeit in truncated form) of his underappreciated masterwork, "Black, Brown & Beige."
There's also ten reinterpretations of Ellington classics here, all of which shed new light on each work. Any Ellington fan who hasn't the money to pick up the giant 24 CD "Centennial" box set should pick this up.