The Duke Box contains a generous serving of more than eight hours of music from what many consider the greatest decade of the greatest orchestra in the history of jazz. What's more, the Duke and his men, among them the incomparable Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, Lawrence Brown, "Tricky" Sam Nanton, Harry Carnet, Rex Stewart, Barney Bigar d and Jimmy Blanton are captured live in dance halls, night clubs, concert halls and radio studios…with a you-are-there feeling absent from most commercial recordings. We are lucky indeed that these slice-of-life sound documents survivie, or were made in the first place, such as the unique Fargo dance date, and hearing it chronologically places this grand music in a very special and illuminating perspective. There are numbers you may know but never heard like this before and when there are several versions, each is different , and then there are some things that even seasoned Ellingtonians will encounter for the first time. So come on in for your special date with the immortal Duke!
Defying what has become conventional wisdom, tenor saxophonist Lester Young cut some of his greatest recordings in the 1950s – that is, when he was reasonably healthy. On this wonderful effort with pianist Oscar Peterson, guitarist Barney Kessel, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer J.C. Heard, Prez performs definitive versions of "Just You, Just Me" and "Tea for Two," and plays a string of concise but memorable ballad renditions: "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "Almost Like Being in Love," "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "There Will Never Be Another You," and "I'm Confessin'." This is essential music from a jazz legend. Some reissues augment the original dozen songs with a version of the good-humored "It Takes Two to Tango," which features Young's only recorded vocals, plus a rather unnecessary false start (on "I Can't Get Started," ironically), along with some studio chatter.
While it's true that Oscar Peterson compilations appeared with regularity form the early '60s on, only a few of them – as with most recording artists – have any real merit. This two-disc collection from the Concord Music Group's Telarc label, is one of them. Appearing less than a year before his death, this compilation concentrates on recordings issued from the '50s through the middle of the '80s on Dizzy Gillespie's Pablo label, and those made for Telarc between 1990 and 2000. Many live dates are included here from both labels, including "Tenderly" with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown at the J.A.T.P. concerts in Japan; the trio dates at Zardi's in 1955 ("How High the Moon"), in Copenhagen with Joe Pass, Stéphane Grappelli, and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen in 1979, and Mickey Roker in 1979 ("Nuages")….
Jerome Kern's stage tunes – going back to the late '20s with the acclaimed presentation Show Boat – right up to the '40s, will forever be at the core of quintessential American popular songs that hold a dear place in the heart of all straight-ahead jazz performers. Oscar Peterson's immortal trio with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen play Kern's themes expertly, with no small degree of interpretation, and a clever angle on these well-worn songs that only Peterson can self-identify with his genius mindset. The title should be more accurately "The Jerome Kern & Friends Songbook," as he always co-wrote with such notables as Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, Ira Gershwin, and Dorothy Fields…
Duke Ellington recorded for Brunswick from 1926 to 1931, the period in which his great talent and great orchestra first flowered, whether the band was recording under his own name or such pseudonyms as the Washingtonians or the Jungle Band. The earliest recordings are highlighted by the presence of trumpeter Bubber Miley and trombonist "Tricky Sam" Nanton, whose brilliant work with plunger mutes for vocal effects did much to define the early sound–which, in turn, rapidly evolved and expanded with the additions of Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, and Cootie Williams. While the band's repertoire included many blues and popular songs, its distinctive identity emerges from early renditions of such trademark pieces as "East St. Louis Toodle-O," "Black and Tan Fantasy," "The Mooche," and "Mood Indigo." By the end of the period covered in this set, Ellington's ambitious later suites–some of them CD-length–are portended in the elegant extended composition "Creole Rhapsody," his clearly superior contribution to the symphonic jazz movement.
Oscar Peterson has stated that he feels his MPS recordings are his finest. That is quite a statement considering the huge amount of records that the pianist has produced through the past 50 years. This set reissues the music from six of his MPS LPs: Action, Girl Talk, The Way I Really Play, My Favorite Instrument, Mellow Mood, and Travelin' On. While some of the performances feature the 1963 trio he had with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen, most of the music dates from 1967-1968 and matches Peterson with bassist Sam Jones and either Louis Hayes or Bobby Durham on drums. A special treat is Peterson's first unaccompanied solo album, which fills up the final LP. Peterson's many fans know what to expect in this set, while other listeners need to discover him to realize what all of the fuss was about. Quite simply, Oscar Peterson has long been one of the greatest pianists the world has ever known; this reissue offers plenty of proof.