Review Summary: Ellington Uptown is a must-have record for anyone looking to understand the history of jazz and for anyone looking for a great record!
Duke Ellington is one of the most important figures in jazz history. Ellington's big band showcased his creativity by the unorthodox use of each instrument and section. Max Roach, a world-class jazz drummer, once said that records are the textbooks of jazz. Ellington Uptown is a must-have record for anyone looking to understand the history of jazz.
The first track on the record is the most famous song from Duke Ellington's book, "Take the 'A' Train". The song opens up with Ellington on the piano being accompanied by Wendall Marshall (Bass) and Louie Bellson (Drums). Bellson's light brushwork makes the introduction to the song swing lightly in the pocket. Betty Roché, the featured singer on this track, performs amazingly in her rendition of the famous song. Her scat solo is sweet sounding and includes some "Call & Response" with some of the members of the band. This is my favorite version of the song.
"The Mooche" is my favorite big band composition. This tune is an example of Duke Ellington's creativity. The trumpeters make the most interesting sounds out of their horns. They are using hats to make sort of a "wah-wah" effect with the trumpets. Also, the traditional role of the drummer is changed. On this track, Bellson is playing rhythmic patterns on the toms with mallets. This is not your ordinary "four on the floor" swing tune.
"Skin Deep" is my favorite recording of all time. This tune has a great melody that swings hard. After the main melody is over, that is when Bellson takes off and starts what I consider one of the best drum solos. Bellson's use of two bass drums and a cowbell make the drum solo not only stronger, but also show the creativity of the drummer and the entire band. In fact, Bellson was actually the pioneer for the use of two bass drums. The band comes in and out throughout the tune to add contrast to the solo.
The other four tracks are spectacular as well, especially trombonist, Juan Tizol's, "Perdido." If you are interested in jazz, big band and/or any type of music you need to get this record.