Duke Ellington – The Reprise Studio Recordings

Five-CD mid-'60s anthology of The Duke

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Two of Ellington’s most accomplished albums (Afro-Bossa and The Symphonic Ellington) just happen to be among his most overlooked works. Maybe it was the time of the season? The Duke signed to Sinatra’s newly inaugurated Reprise label just as Britain’s beat groups were poised to invade the US. It proved a testing time for many. Once successful careers evaporated overnight, leaving those who didn’t lose their nerve to face the challenge.

The exotic Afro-Bossa and the truly majestic Symphonic Ellington were in the can before the bombardment began, with the latter proving to be one of the few successful fusions of jazz and symphony orchestras ever.

Jazz frequently borrowed its repertoire from Broadway, with mixed results. But The Duke makes a silk purse from a sow’s ear when approaching the Mary Poppins score?a Disney-bankrolled project. Elsewhere, some unlikely jukebox hits are transformed into acceptable jazz performances. Likewise swing era hits. But it’s Duke’s own music that is of core value.

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