Duke Ellington, who has never been a man to be afraid of fooling around with new ideas, offers some of his most unusual in a Victor album (P-182; $3.57, with tax) that includes eight blues sides cut a year or so ago but only recently issued. Many Ellington fans insist the Duke’s early work has never been surpassed, but my own feeling is that this particular group is superior, at least in arrangement. Outstanding is a dreamy, introspective thing called “Transblucency,” in which Ellington’s use of the human voice as a solo instrument is interpreted with great warmth and subtlety by vocalist Kay Davis.
Even the Duke’s piano, never quite so good as the best, is exceptionally engaging in this album, and the ultramodern Ellington treatment of the fine old “Royal Garden Blues” doesn’t in any way detract from the original in vigor of that Dixieland tune. His album is easily the best bet of the current crop.
The solo piano of Johnny Wittwer, known among jazz people on the West Coast for his work with Kid Ory and Wingy Manone, may be heard on six sides put out by the Jazz Man Record Shop in Hollywood. His style—unaffected barrelhouse—doesn’t suffer from the repetition so prevalent in the semi-ragtime school. I hope he makes some records with a band.
Some of the flavor of an after-hours session is evident in Capitol’s “Ja Da” and “Three O’Clock Jump,” played by a group that calls itself “Ten Cats and a Mouse.” The musicians are among Capitol’s best known recording artists, and on these sides they play instruments with which they’re not customarily identified. Xylophonist Red Norvo plays piano, guitarist Dave Barbour tries his hand at trumpet, alto-man Benny Carter and tenorman Eddie Miller switch horns, vocalist Peggy Lee (the Mouse) sits behind the drums, and so on. Some of the musicians are uncertain on their instruments, others confident, but all seem to enjoy making the two sides.