Wednesday Jun 26

Big band surprises from Pablo

Fantasy Records surprised me [in 2002] with a double-barreled blast of (officially) previously unreleased live recordings by the Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton Orchestras.  They are, respectively Duke Ellington at the Alhambra: Pablo PACD-5313-2 and Stan Kenton Orchestra: Stompin' at Newport. Pablo PACD-5312-2).

Ellington at the AlhambraKenton at Newport

The Ellington set dates to a concert in Paris in 1958. Ellington aficionados will immediately recall that the maestro had a wonderful organization that year, featuring in particular the nonpareil reed section of Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonzalves, and Harry Carney. The mono recording was made for French radio broadcast and is miked to emphasize the glories of that stellar sax lineup. Don't miss this welcome addition to the Ellington canon.

The Kenton performances date to the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. That year, Norman Granz had total control of all the recording at the festival. He took down and released on LP the sets by Verve artists and also by a few unsigned artists, notably the Donald Byrd-Gigi Gryce Jazz Lap Quintet and the Cecil Taylor quartet with Steve Lacy.

There were no LPs from Newport that year from artists under contract to other labels, but apparently Granz recorded them all and archived the tapes. Now the first of them has surfaced in the form of this Kenton CD, released under agreement with EMI, the parent company of Capitol, which was Kenton's exclusive label at that time.

Unfortunately, it doesn't offer up the Kenton band at its best. The studio recordings of these same compositions outshine these somewhat lackluster readings of these Kenton favorites and classics. For me the main interest in this CD, is the tantalizing promise it holds of possible release of 1957 Newport performances by other artists who at that time were under contract to the likes of Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside, RCA, and Columbia and others.