At Rainbow Grille
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This CD contains rarely heard arrangements of some of Ellington's best compositions. Billy Strayhorn once stated that 'Duke Ellington plays the piano, but his real instrument is the orchestra'.. Even if this is in some way true, Duke's sporadic experiments with smaller groups and his skills as a pianist were nevertheless superb. The live performance at the Rainbow Grill offered here gives additional evidence of his stature as an instrumentalist. The octet was formed taking several of the major soloists from the 1967 Ellington band, including five horns (Cat Anderson on trumpet, Lawrence Brown on trombone, Johnny Hodges on alto sax, Paul Gonsalves on tenor sax and Harry Carney on baritone sax), plus the rhythm section including the Duke himself, John Lamb on bass, and Steve Little on drums. 13 tracks total, including 'In a Sentimental Mood', 'Azure', 'Rock the Clock' and more. Gambit.
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Then the broadcast proper begins, after an announcer urges the crowd to applaud as soon as the band goes on the air. The band is made up of star soloists from within the Ellington orchestra, namely Cat Anderson (trumpet), Lawrence Brown (trombone), Johnny Hodges (alto), Paul Gonsalves (tenor), and Harry Carney (baritone), with a rhythm section that includes the Duke himself on piano, bassist John Lamb, and drummer Steve Little. This reduced lineup called for new arrangements, which in the hands of these giant jazzmen sound rich and engaging, giving all the horns plenty of chances to shine. The set list is full of Ellington and Strayhorn standards, such as “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Satin Doll,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Passion Flower,” “Solitude,” and “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” as well as Juan Tizol’s “Perdido,” which is very ably performed here by Cat Anderson. Ellington himself, of course, is heavily featured on piano, and his playing is never less than superb. Clocking in at just over 56 minutes, this is a very welcome release from the European label Gambit, with personnel information and some well-written liner notes that could, however, be a little more detailed. It appears that several other performances from this Ellington octet engagement have survived, and on the strength of this one, they definitely deserve to be issued commercially.