Duke Ellington — Live at the Berlin Jazz Festival 1969-1973
180-gram hand-numbered edition
Limited to 2,000 copies worldwide!
Gold foil and debossing on soft-touch cover
Printed inner sleeve; pressed at Optimal in Germany
On Nov. 8, 1969,on the stage of the Berlin Philharmonic’s main hall, the Duke, whose portrait is the poster of the Jazztage Festival celebrating his 70th birthday, slowly joined his piano. His orchestra was at the helm, adorned with a gleaming section, some of whom have accompanied him for 30 years, such as Cootie Willams and Cat Anderson. Legendary saxophonists Paul Gonsalves and Johnny Hodges and Russell Procope were also present.
In a sort of rattle, the Duke launched “La plus Belle Africaine.” A baroque but perfectly mastered mixture of sunny colors captured during a tour in Dakar, launched by the solo saxophone and then taken up with flashes of inventiveness by all or part of the band. The tone is set. Cat Anderson launched into a furious “El Gato” which shook the audience with its creaking, deliberate deconstruction, evoking the revolutionary, fragmentary and unfinished gestures of Thelonious Monk or Cecil Taylor. A studied contrast with the gentle continuation of “I Can’t Get Started,” just before the 43-second parenthesis of “Caravan,” which is a mischievous link to the flamboyant “Satin Doll” that masterfully punctuates this concert.
In 1973, a few months before his death, Duke returned to Berlin in a formation based on his trio (Joe Benjamin on double bass and Quinten “Rocky” White Jr. on drums), joined by Harold Johnson on trumpet, the clarinettist and baritone saxophonist Harry Carney — and by his long-time sidekick, the tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves. Duke Ellington gives his piano a central place here, making it both the driving force of the ensemble and its harmonic and rhythmic backbone.
In the blues that opens the concert, we hear Debussy. Take the A train’ follows. The Duke likes changes of mood. Only, here and there, touches of discontinuous speech remind us how sagaciously the Duke was able to draw on the audacious harmonies of his contemporaries. And then he dares to do everything. Like offering his band the rhythmic virtuosity of Baby Laurence on tap dance in “Tap Dance”. The magic works. The success is total.
Two concerts in Berlin, two facets of a poetic universe, two visions of an alchemist who knew how to draw with lightness but also with a mixture of jubilation and authority, from the harmonic sources of all music and which make so relevant the formula he loved: “there are only two kinds of music: good and bad”. We have had the extreme privilege of resurrecting the better one.