One of the truly indisputable evidences for the existence of an all loving God is when he allowed Duke Ellington to form his orchestra, and let baritone saxist Harry Carney anchor the sax section for 50 years. Whether it was the early team with Hodges/as, Hardwick/as, Bigard /cl and Webster/ts, or the two score team of Gonsalves/ts, Hodges/as, Procope/cl and Hamilton/cl, the sound that went from velvety smooth to jungle raw was one of the glories of Western Civilization.
The American Jazz Institute got a bunch of LA’s best musicians and put out this prime release that sounds like one of The Duke’s experimental sessions for a small band. To say that it’s “just a sax section and rhythm team” is like saying the 1927 Yankees were “just a ballclub.” Gary Foster, Don Shelton, Pete Christlieb, Gene Cipriano and Gary Smulyan make up the reeds, while Joe La Barbera/dr, Bill Cunliffe/p and Tom Warrington/b handle the rhythm chores. Special accolades go to La Barbera, who gets the Woodyard/Bellson groove that made Ellington so, well, Ellingtonian, down to perfection. All of the songs picked from the Ellington Canon feature one of the Hall of Famers from the venerable band, such as “Love’s Away” having Pete Christlieb delving into the inner sanctum of Ben Webster, or Cipriano tipping the hat to Johnny Hodges on “The Peaches Are Better Down the Road.” The head honcho of the show, however, is the bari man Smulyan, who’s presence is felt as the anchor of the horn section on juicy pieces like “Esquire Swank,” or on solo spotlights on “We’re In Love Again.”
One of the best things about this collection is that most of the tunes are fairly obscure. Except for “Jeep’s Blues” and “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” you probably won’t have these melodies embedded in your cerebrum, making the sense of discovery all the more enjoyable, and keeping the music fresh, as opposed to some standard rehash. This music will rejuvenate your love for music, maybe even for life, and maybe even make you get out your Bible and sing praises to God, for “everything good comes from above.”