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Two classic jazz LPs (yes, the vinyl kind)

Duke Ellington
 Blues in Orbit, Classic Records/Columbia LP CS 8241, 1960/1995

 Classic Duke in great sound

Obviously, this is a blues album. Most of the tunes, by Ellington or his alter-ego Billy Strayhorn, or by band members, are based on the sturdy inevitability of the twelve-bar blues chord changes. The Ducal favorite "C Jam Blues," with its two-note melody, gets a fine violin solo by triple-threat Ray Nance (trumpet being his main weapon, and his offbeat vocals a last resort). "Blues in Blueprint" is a stunning little sketch of the sort Duke could seemingly turn out overnight, starting with Jimmy Hamilton's bass clarinet and Jimmy Wood's bass playing the sparse melody in unison, punctuated only by finger snaps. Very cool. "Smada" is a fine piece of Strayhorn exotica.

All of this is captured in quite a good recording. The stereo spread is very natural, and the balance of the instruments is excellent. The Classic Records reissue is beautifully flat, thick and quiet. Compared to an original pressing, the reissue is quieter, but otherwise just as fine.

Duke made so many records it can be overwhelming to choose one. On the other hand, there is no bad place to start with Duke, merely less exalted places. Is this one of the top ten recordings by Duke? No. Is it worth owning? Absolutely, especially in this fine LP reissue. -  Glenn Brooks

Sonny Rollins & Co.
 The Bridge, Classic Records/RCA LP LSP-2527, 1962/1995

 One of Sonny's best

The cover features a large photo of Sonny with a buzz cut, goatee and checkered sport coat that any 1996 dude would envy. This was the first recording Rollins made after a two-year sabbatical. A glance at the song list shows a typical bop-date mix of tunes. And the playing shows Rollins did not make any major changes during the sabbatical. When you consider that Ornette Coleman was shaking up the jazz world with the first forays into free jazz at this time, it is surprising how little change there was in Rollins' music.

Okay, so it wasn't innovative. It's still fine, one of Rollins' half-dozen best albums. Rollins is his oblique self, carefully taking the tunes apart for you to examine. A young Jim Hall is splendid in his solos as well as comping behind Sonny.

How does it sound? Pretty dang fine, given the wide stereophony typical of the era. Rollins' sax is hard right, Hall is hard left, Cranshaw's bass is up front in the center, and the drums are spread slightly behind the bass. The tones of the instruments are well captured. It is very easy to tell which way Rollins is pointing his sax, and he uses on/off microphone tricks quite effectively.

I have an original issue of  The Bridge, in a Canadian pressing, and a later U.S. issue by RCA in its paper-thin late-'70s vinyl. This reissue is easily the best-sounding of the lot. Classic Records has recently begun issuing gold CDs, also mastered by Bernie Grundman, so if you tossed your old turntable, you can hope they put this one out. On the other hand, if you were smart (or lazy) enough to keep that old Dual, or Thorens, or AR, you might just want to fire it up. -  Glenn Brooks

production notes & song titles


Duke Ellington, piano; Ray Nance, trumpet, violin; Booty Wood, trombone; Mathew Gee, Jr., trombone and baritone horn; Jimmy Hamilton, clarinet, tenor sax; Johnny Hodges, alto sax; Paul Gonzalves, tenor sax; Harry Carney, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Jimmy Wood, bass. Others, probably including Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson and Mercer Ellington, trumpets; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Sam Woodyard, drums.

Produced by Teo Macero; uncredited recording engineer; reissue mastered by Bernie Grundman.

Three J's Blues | Smada | Pie Eye's Blues | Sweet and Pungent | C Jam Blues | In a Mellow Tone | Blues in Blueprint | The Swingers Get the Blues Too | The Swinger's Jump | Blues in Orbit | Villes Ville Is the Place, Man


Sonny Rollins, tenor sax; Jim Hall, guitar; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Ben Riley or H. T. Saunders, drums.

Produced by Bob Prince; recorded by Roy Hall; reissue mastered by Bernie Grundman.

Without a Song | Where Are You | John S. | The Bridge | God Bless the Child | You Do Something to Me

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.