VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Take The –A- Train Mixtape”
"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.
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.
This was one enjoyable ride!
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Take The –A- Train Mixtape Playlist
01 Live At The Blue Note - Duke Ellington
02 Take The "A" Train - Betty Roche
03 Ellingtonia - NDR Big Band
04 Thank You For Everything - Johnny Hartman
05 Soular Energy - Ray Brown Trio With Gene Harris
06 Letter from Home - Eddie Jefferson
07 The Peaceful Side of Jazz - Billy Strayhorn
08 Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies - Phyllis Hyman
09 I Believe In Music - Louis Jordan
10 Somewhere in France - Ray Bryant
11 Jazz Maturity....Where It's Coming From - Dizzy Gillespie
12 Echoes of an Era - Chaka Khan
13 The Voice - Bobby McFerrin
14 Plays Duke Ellington - World Saxophone Quartet
15 Sunrise In Different Dimensions - Sun Ra
16 De Todo Un Poco - Jorge Reyes
17 Love Island - Deodato
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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