JazzTimes (p.89) - "Recorded mostly in 1960, the band was at its peak of popularity and enthusiasm..."
At first glance, one might think that this album is another in a long line of standard-issue Duke Ellington compilations. However, this is a release created by the artist himself, and it presents sessions from May and June of 1960 with one of the best orchestras Ellington ever assembled. (Only the previously unissued "Harlem Air Shaft," one of five bonus tracks on the CD, was recorded in '61.)
The title of this collection is also something of a misnomer, since PIANO IN THE BACKGROUND prominently features the piano throughout. Each track boasts fabulous bluesy piano introductions, and, at the end of each tune, the ivories usually get the last word. This dramatic conclusion sometimes comes in the form of a final blow to the lower register of the keyboard, as on "Mid-Riff," "Main Stem," and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." These mysterioso rumblings of the piano make the tunes end with a kind of musical defiance not normally associated with jazz orchestras of the time. This is hard-swinging and inspired big-band music at its finest.
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