Friday, May 02, 2008

Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington - The Great Summit: The Master Takes (Roulette, 1961, 2000)

This is a thoroughly charming meeting between two legends and longtime friends. With Duke at the piano and Pops singing and playing trumpet (joined by Trummy Young on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Mort Herbet on bass, and Danny Barcelona on drums) the group the group glides through a program of Ellington's finest compositions with genial familiarity and bonhomie. Armstrong's vocals are particularly radiant, whether singing "Do Nothin'' 'til You Hear From Me" with a knowing wink, or swinging like mad through "It Don't Mean a Thing" he sounds truly inspired. Trumpet is in the background for much of the album, used to punctuate the music, but the well timed accents have a lifetime of spirit behind them. Duke sounds equally inspired, dropping in unusual piano voicings, and sounding thrilled to have a chance to play with a small band of equals. There is much joy to be found here, whether on the swinging numbers like the opening "Duke's Place" to the raucous "Cottontail" or the ballads, which are radiant, with "Solitude" and "Mood Indigo" shining like gems. Summit meetings between musical legends aren't always what they are cracked up to be, but in this case all expectations are met and exceeded. Jazz enthusiasts shouldn't pass up the chance to hear this beautiful music.

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