VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Take The –A- Train Mixtape”

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"Take The -A- Train"
is the most famous Ellington song that Duke never wrote. Although it was the Ellington band’s theme song and Duke must have performed it literally thousands of times (indeed, there seems to be a thousand recordings of the song), “Take The –A- Train” was actually written by Duke’s alter ego, Billy Strayhorn. You can hear Duke acknowledge Billy on the first track when Duke requests that Billy play the piano for a chorus or two.

We end up with 18 versions that stylistically almost span the entire history of jazz. In addition to the requisite swing band versions, we’ve got boogie-woogie from pianist Ray Bryant. Need I mention that the boogie-woogie is based on the sound of the train?

At the other end of the spectrum, legendary avant garde keyboardist and bandleader Sun Ra turns in a quirky reading that is complimented by a brief but stringent sounding of the theme by The World Saxophone Quartet. We’ve also got afro-Cuban rhythms from bassist Jorge Reyes, an MSP version from Brazilian maestro Deodato, and even a rousing closing throwdown from go-go Godfather Chuck Brown.
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Whether fast or slow, funky or lyrical, “Take The –A- Train” retains its captivating sound. The German GDR aggregation turns in a tender reading that takes it’s time unfolding, while bassist Ray Brown swings hard at a slow tempo, which is not the easiest thing to do. And speaking of swinging on the blues end we’ve got saxophonist Louis Jordan strutting his stuff and Dizzy Gillespie injecting blues tones into the song. And, perhaps the most striking arrangement is by Billy Strayhorn from an album appropriately titled The Peaceful Side of Jazz.

And we also have a brace of vocalists working their magic. The first vocalist is Betty Roche, who worked with the Ellington Orchestra during the war years and unfortunately was not extensively recorded when she was with Duke, and that’s our lost. But we do get insights into the bebop view from Eddie Jefferson, who was one of the founders of vocalese. In contrast we have Bobby McFerrin hamming it up to the great enjoyment of the audience. Johnny Hartman is predictably suave and Chaka Khan surprisingly effective. The most eye-opening turn is taken by chanteuse Phyllis Hyman who not only displays her full range from baritone notes to ultra soprano, in-key squeals of joy as she scats with Gregory Hines. This is from Hyman’s run with the Broadway Ellington tribute, Sophisticated Ladies.
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This was one enjoyable ride!

—Kalamu ya Salaam

Take The –A- Train Mixtape Playlist

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01 Live At The Blue Note - Duke Ellington

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02 Take The "A" Train - Betty Roche

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03 Ellingtonia - NDR Big Band

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04 Thank You For Everything - Johnny Hartman

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05 Soular Energy - Ray Brown Trio With Gene Harris

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06 Letter from Home - Eddie Jefferson

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07 The Peaceful Side of Jazz - Billy Strayhorn

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08 Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies - Phyllis Hyman

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09 I Believe In Music - Louis Jordan

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10 Somewhere in France - Ray Bryant

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11 Jazz Maturity....Where It's Coming From - Dizzy Gillespie

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12 Echoes of an Era - Chaka Khan

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13 The Voice - Bobby McFerrin

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14 Plays Duke Ellington - World Saxophone Quartet

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15 Sunrise In Different Dimensions - Sun Ra

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16 De Todo Un Poco - Jorge Reyes

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17 Love Island - Deodato

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18 Go Go Swing Live - Chuck Brown And The Soul Searchers

This entry was posted on Monday, May 24th, 2010 at 4:51 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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