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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby




Original 1938 Recordings



Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams, Harold "Shorty" Baker - trumpets ; Rex Stewart - cornet ; Joe Nanton, Lawrence Brown - trombones; Juan Tizol - valve trombone; Johnny Hodges - clarinet, soprano & alto sax; Barney Bigard - clarinet; Harry Carney - clarinet, alto & baritone sax; Otto Hardwick - alto & bass sax; Duke Ellington - piano; Fred Guy - guitar ; Hayes Alvis, Billy Taylor - bass; Sonny Greer - drums; Ivie Anderson - vocal.

Collective personnel.

Recorded in New York January - December 1938.

1. Stepping Into Swing Society

2. The Gal From Joe's

3. I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart

4. Braggin' In Brass

5. Dinah's In A Jam

6. You Gave Me The Gate ( And I'm Swingin' )

7. Pyramid

8. When My Sugar Walks Down The Street

9. A Gypsy Without A Song

10. Watermelon Man

11. Please Forgive Me

12. Lambeth Walk

13. Prelude To A Kiss

14. Buffet Flat

15. T.T. On Toast

16. Blue Light ( Transbluency )

17. Old King Dooji

18. Boy Meets Horn

19. Mighty Like The Blues

20. Slap Happy

Once again Naxos have come up with a release that is essential for the Ellington connoisseur both in terms of cost and content. What makes this issue even more fascinating is that the selections were all recorded during the space of one year. This conveys a sense both of standard repertoire and also indicates what the band had to add in terms of novelty numbers to keep its record buying public interested.

This is obviously not the renowned "Webster - Blanton" band of a few years later, however, it is a swinging professional outfit at the top of its game. The personnel had been relatively stable for a number of years and many of the star performers had now reached an impressive maturity. Ellington himself had bythis time achieved a distinctive and more fluent style of orchestration, gone are many of the rougher edges inherent in the idiom of the "Jungle" era . There is a genuine air of confidence on even the more trite or commercial numbers.

It is difficult to select specific tracks as so much of this release is first class. Harry Carney produces some excellent flowing baritone solos on "Swing Society" and "When My Sugar Walks Down The Street", his pre-eminence on his chosen main voice is very profound by the time of these recordings. There are many examples of the early mature alto stylings of Johnny Hodges; his later performances perhaps gained a little more depth of expression on the slow to medium tempos but his bubbling up-tempo playing is pure delight. As an extra bonus these sides are from the time when Hodges still played his unique soprano as can be heard on "A Gypsy Without A Song " - surely when he stopped playing this instrument a few years later the music had to await the advent of John Coltrane for its next original exponent.

I cannot leave this disc without mentioning the wonderful performance by the whole band, particularly the brass, on the title track,this must rank as one of the Duke's minor masterpieces. More like this please Naxos!

Dick Stafford

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