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Hit Couleurs JAZZ

Alain Pailler has devoted three books to the work of Duke Ellington, of whom he is an enthusiastic and passionate connoisseur: “Duke et ses hommes” (Actes Sud, 1998), “Duke’s place“: Ellington et ses imaginaires” (Actes Sud, 2000) and “Ko-Ko” (Alter Ego, 2011), which has just been reissued by Éditions Frémeaux & Associées under the title “Ko-Ko: Duke Ellington en son chef d’œuvre“.

Ko-Ko is the emblematic Duke Ellington composition from the famous “Jimmy Blanton, Billy Strayhorn and Ben Webster” sessions, and the author provides a pertinent analysis, situating it not only in the history of the orchestra, but also in the broader context of the era.

Ko-Ko. Duke Ellington en son chef d’œuvre. New reviewed edition, corrected and expanded, by Alain Pailler – Éditions Frémeaux & Associés, 2024

We evoke the jungle style of the Cotton Club epic of the ’20s and ’30s, the charm of the beautiful melodies that will become jazz standards in time, the unique character of pieces imbued with the spirit of the blues and the first concertante forms, all elements of a sonic magic to which “each musician brings his own unique touch, based on a framework imagined, sometimes in its broad outlines, sometimes in the smallest detail, by Maestro Ellington”.

The various versions of Ko-Ko performed by the Duke’s orchestra and others (Claude Bolling, John Lewis, Don Sebesky, Steve Lacy…) are critically examined, as is the importance of this title in the work of Charles Mingus and Miles Davis.

The four CDs in the boxed set “Duke At His Very Best: The Jimmy Blanton – Billy Strayhorn – Ben Webster Sessions. Legendary Works 1940-1942” concocted by Alain Pailler and Tony Baldwin is a judicious initiative enabling us to appreciate, in the best possible listening conditions, the richness and variety of the Ellingtonian big band repertoire attested by Jack The Bear, Conga Brava, Concerto For Cootie, Cotton Tail, Harlem Air-Shaft, All Too Soon, Sepia Panorama, as well as small-band titles published under the names of Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard and pieces such as Perdido and C Jam Blues, which went on to become standards.

These tunes are all opportunities to savor the masterfully written arrangements by Duke Ellington and his alter ego Billy Strayhorn that so inspired the band’s soloists: the Jimmy Blanton trio, Ben Webster, Billy Strayhorn, of course, but also Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, Ray Nance, Lawrence Brown, Joe Nanton, Juan Tizol, Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney.

Particular attention has been paid to the sound quality of these recordings, allowing the listener to savor the power and suppleness of the pulse generated by the great double bassist Jimmy Blanton, whose revolutionary playing shows all its expressiveness in the duet sides with Duke (Pitter Panther Patter).

Finally, it should be pointed out that this recording is an almost identical reproduction of the contents of the three-volume boxed set “Duke Ellington: The Blanton – Webster Band” (RCA/Bluebird 7432113181 2), released in 2003, with the addition of twenty-four sides recorded in small formation.

A precious testimony to a particularly brilliant period in Ellington’s output, which will see many more successes in the years to come.

Duke At His Very Best : The Jimmy Blanton – Billy Strayhorn – Ben Webster Sessions. Legendary Works 1940-1942” (Frémeaux & Associés)

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