Duke Ellington: Indigos
For many, Duke Ellington sits atop the list of our country’s greatest composers. Perhaps our most prolific too, as he wrote thousands of pieces over a 50 year period. Let’s dwell on that a moment…
We recently grabbed the Music on Vinyl (MoV) re-issue of Indigos. Recorded in 1957, roughly a year or so after his triumphant return at the Newport Festival in July ’56, and released in 1958, this collection of tunes represents some of his older tunes and familiar standards. This record is not one that makes the critics short list, but I’m digging it. If it’s the acclaimed recordings you want, here are a few: Masterpieces by Ellington, Ellington at Newport, The Far East Suite, or the Anatomy of a Murder soundtrack.
This was not a release of new tunes (The Sky Fell Down is the one exception), but this band is incredible, and Ellington rearranges many of these to better pair them with the selected soloist. I try to imagine what it would’ve been like to see these bands at the dance halls when big band music was in its prime. This was pop music in the 30’s and 40’s, at least until WWII. This wasn’t some over-amplified rock show. No. This was a 15 piece band setting your pants on fire.
This recording gets you about as close as we can now get to that band. It’s dynamic, dimensional and definitely meets Columbia’s ‘Guaranteed High Fidelity’ branding of their records (see photo). Of course, this is the Music On Vinyl re-issue from 2014, but you get my point. BTW – I have 3 or 4 of the MoV releases, and all of them are stellar. All but one track here are in stereo. Piano, bass and drums are mixed center stage, with the horns on either side. The recording is intimate and clear – the woodwinds and brass easily distinguishable from one another – you could pick out one player in the mix. If that’s your thing. In fact, on Autumn Leaves, you can hear Ozzie Bailey take a breath at the beginning of his first vocal chorus, but they’d edited it out the rest – only his final chorus remains in this version.
Yes, these days many of these tunes appear worn thin from over-exposure and numerous re-interpretations in the decades since Ellington’s passing (1974). This is our way. That should not deter anyone interested in Ellington’s music from giving it a spin.