Album Review #5: Ellington at Newport by Duke Ellington (1956)

Ellington at Newport

There are two versions of this album: the original release, which is an abridged version, and the re-release, which contains the full concert performance. I believe the full version to be far superior, if only for the original’s omission of the finale “Skin Deep”, one of the best moments of the entire concert. For this review I will be reviewing the complete version.

With that out of the way, let me just say that this is one of the greatest jazz albums I have ever heard. Every instrument compliments every other almost perfectly. The saxophones are incredible sounding, the trumpets are energetic and filled with life, the quiet and reserved bass takes the background adding great amounts of subtlety, and the drums keep the beat but still manage to stand out. Every performance is almost perfect. Heck, the audience loved it so much that they refused to let it end! That’s right, the last fifteen minutes or so of the album were unplanned, and are only present because the crowd wouldn’t let them stop. 

As the longest album I’ve reviewed so far at just over an hour and twenty minutes, it definitely doesn’t feel that long. The music is so good that you really just get lost in it, and before you know it, it’s over. I would say that every track was great, but there were definitely some standouts. The three-part suite of “Festival Junction”, “Blues to Be There” and “Newport Up” are truly great. “Festival Junction” is eight minutes, but the jazz instrumentation is so good that the length becomes irrelevant. “Newport Up” is fast and exiting, and bounds with energy. “Diminuendo in Blue” is the longest track, at fourteen minutes, and right in the middle is possibly one of the best saxophone solos ever put to record. The record ends with “Skin Deep”, a nine minute attempt to please the raving adoration of the crowd, and mostly consists of an outstanding drum solo that truly ends the show on an amazing note.

This has been one of the best albums I have reviewed so far. I’ve never listened to much jazz before beginning this project, but after this album, I am seriously regretting that. I would make this album required listening for any fan of jazz or really music in general, just make sure you’re getting the full experience with the complete edition.

Next Up: This Is Fats Domino by Fats Domino (1956)

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