Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Duke Ellington

  • Money Jungle [Blue Note, 1962] A-
  • The Best of Early Ellington [MCA, 1996] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Money Jungle [Blue Note, 1962]
As a fan of Ellington's 1972 This One's for Blanton session with bassist Ray Brown, I resisted this earlier date with bassist Charlie Mingus and drummer Max Roach. I feared that while paired solely with supportive pre-modernist Brown Ellington was free to wax literal about such solid tunes as "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me" and "Sophisticated Lady," showboating aesthete Mingus would depth-bomb the proceedings with his genius. But instead, Mingus hews the course, his lines venturing about harmonically with no appreciable loss of bottom--Roach's drums do at least as much bombing. So both sidemen-as-equals complicate rather than undermine the tracks' melodic allure as Ellington honors the songs, at his most disruptive like Monk in a mellow mood. But I must add that the four perfectly OK bonus alternate takes on the CD release, the 1962 session's third iteration, disperse the impact of an album that initially omitted the three fine new Ellington blues that surfaced second time around. My iTunes gets an 11-track version. A-

The Best of Early Ellington [MCA, 1996]
Although it doesn't approach RCA's long-lost Flaming Youth and touches fewer famous classics than Columbia's fainter, cleaner two-CD Okeh Ellington, this warm, scratchy disc leads out of his tangled discography into his '20s music, which traffics in a rinky-dink novelty more rock and roll than his glossy big-band dance charts. At first only a few familiar tunes stand out from the delicate audacity and raucous detail of the sound. But soon every theme kicks in, every silky clarinet solo and bumptious plunger mute. Ellington called this jungle music because white folks would never have believed he heard the modern city so much better than they did. They learned, kind of. A