91. Duke Ellington & His Orchestra / Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band (2003)
This superb 3-disc set from Bluebird compiles all the master takes from 1940-42, plus a handful of juicy alternate takes. These sides are for the Duke catalog what the Complete Decca Recordings are for Basie. The comparisons should generally end there, but I just want to convey how important they are not only to the group, but to the notion of jazz itself. And finally, justice was done to this historic music in terms of packaging and audio quality (I say finally, but we've had this set for 10 years now), a clear improvement over previous digital offerings. If you already own RCA's Complete Duke Ellington set and you're only a casual listener, then there isn't much to entice you into repurchasing. But if you lean the way of the completist, or you're more serious about your collection, then you really need to have this on your shelf. It's many people's favorite Duke orchestra, and in hindsight the stand looks like a murderer's row of jazz legends. Of course you get Ben Webster and Jimmy Blanton, but there's also Cootie and Cat Anderson, Sonny Greer, Juan Tizol, Ray Nance, Rex Stewart.... the list goes on and on, without even getting into the vocalists. I'm not going to bother talking about individual tracks because we all have our favorites, and there isn't a lemon in the bunch. Above all, this music proves that eloquence is truly timeless.