Friday, 4 February 2011

Duke Ellington and John Coltrane - Same


This is a perfect album, released in 1963. Before I begin to describe, I will repeat what I have already said, not by way of excuse but simple honesty: I'm no expert on jazz [the earlier reference was about classical music, but the same applies], however, I know what I like. And I like this.

In my ignorance I imagine a great mutual respect between these two [not that this is hard to imagine, I just don't know]. What I mean is there is the 63 year old veteran and more 'traditionalist' Ellington playing with the 36 year old 'experimentalist' Coltrane and as I write both those descriptors I am so aware of their shortcomings. But for Ellington to so gently and simply lay down support for what seems to me some explosive saxophone playing, there must have been this extraordinary empathy - or perhaps for such great musicians it just comes easily and naturally. Would Ellington have been mesmerised by the playing - that's the question I am naively asking. Of course Coltrane would have been honoured to play with Ellington. In 1962 when this was recorded would Ellington have been aware of where such sax playing was headed?

To the songs. The opener 'In A Sentimental Mood' is just beautiful. Ellington's lightly tapped and hypnotic rhythm sets off the exquisite melody of Coltrane's playing. 'Big Nick' has the most amazing [surely tautological when referring to Coltrane] alto solo. Now, clever-clogs alert, but I'm unable to describe these solos in musical terms I read from the experts, so my most genuine metaphor is to liken it to a young boy calmly sitting who is suddenly let out to play and he immediately runs leaps climbs jumps tumbles pokes hits somersaults dives stumbles ascends exhausts and gradually returns to a calm and controlled position. This alto solo also has that reverberation so familiar in 'My Favorite Things'. 'Stevie' has a tenor solo that is at times raw in intensity. 'My Little Brown Book' has a smooth, gentle and pure sound that's the calmed boy grown to a calmed man in his perfect element. I haven't written about the others because this was difficult enough but I have had fun trying.

As I've also said before, such narratives are no substitute for the listening and anyone listening to this should just hear the enthusiasm and awe.

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