Recent listening, current

Friday, December 20, 2013

160. Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges / Side By Side (1959)

I put this album in the "essential" pile. From the first punchy, rather Dukelike chords in "Stompy Jones," we're off to the races with two sessions comprised of Ellington and Basie alumni. I love listening to Sweets Edison in the context of a small group. His lines in "Stompy" are clean, concise, and eloquent, ringing out above the swinging bass, Jo Jones' crashing cymbals and Duke's rhythmical encouragement. Those two guys -- Duke Ellington and Jo Jones -- make quite the pair midway through the tune when the front line lays out and lets them have a round of aggressive chords and crashing percussion. Hodges comes back just in time for a joyous, New Orleans style melee at the end. The lineup with Ellington and Sweets only does three of the album's nine tracks ("Stompy," "Squeeze Me" and "Going Up"). The second session is a septet recorded six months earlier with Billy Strayhorn, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, Wendell Marshall, and Lawrence Brown. The character is similar but the different chemistry is easy to hear. Of course the soloists change, Eldridge's style is flashier than Sweets', but there's also a different sentimental quality and certain reserve presiding over cuts like "Let's Fall in Love" that is absent from the music with Ellington. Maybe it's Webster. Or maybe it's Strayhorn? Who knows. Regardless of which band you prefer, this disc is wonderful.

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