DUKE ELLINGTON — Duke Ellington's Greatest Hits (aka The Duke Lives On) (review)

DUKE ELLINGTON — Duke Ellington's Greatest Hits (aka The Duke Lives On) album cover Live album · 1967 · Big Band Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Calling the album in question here, “Duke Ellngton’s Greatest Hits”, might have been an attempt to make it more appealing and increase sales, but it is very misleading as this is not a collection of old original studio recordings, but is actually a live concert recorded some time in 1963, while the band was on tour in Europe. Sure the band covers a lot of their old favorites, but that was true of almost any Ellington concert over the years. Actually, if this record had been labeled as the live concert it really is, that would have helped sales more than the bogus “greatest hiits” tag. Ellington 'best of' albums are a dime a dozen and most Ellington fans don’t need one more re-packaging of studio recordings they already own, but they would probably be a lot more interested if they knew that this is an excellent live recording that shows the band to be in top form as they play some old favorites, but in ways that differ significantly from the originals.

Ellington was known for not playing tunes the same way twice, and that is apparent as you re-visit many of these well known songs. “Satin Doll”, and “Creole Love Call” are tossed off rather quickly and they don’t even play the recognizable main melody to “Love Call”. On the other hand, “Black and Tan Fantasy” is stretched out with more space at the end for the clarinet(s). Another top track is “Pyramid”, a real gem in that Ellington exotic pseudo-African style that influenced many, from Sun Ra to Les Baxter. All of the remaining tracks are good because the band sounds particularly cohesive and in tune with each other. I would guess that a lot of the good vibes come from the fact that the band was touring Europe where they were likely to get treated better than in the states. The band sounds relaxed and happy and all the subtle colors that the Ellington band is capable of sound very rich and delicate. It seems playing for a European audience really brings out the influence of French impressionism in the Ellington ensemble sound.

Unfortunately, this record has slid into obscurity and is mostly ignored and forgotten, most likely because of the misleading ‘greatest hits’ title. If you are an Ellington fan and can find this vinyl in good shape, pick it up, you won’t be disappointed. The recorded sound on here is excellent, and the band is in very good form, the ensemble tone colors are superb. This is a hidden gem in the vast Ellington discography, where good things can easily be lost and forgotten.
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