Duke Ellington, Blues in Orbit
There's a tendency to think of the Blues as an easy genre for amateur guitarists and old black singers with lotsa heartbreak, an all-too-familiar vernacular riddled with cliches and guitar faces. But jazz did manage to do something amazing with the blues, with swing and the blues together. And it was The Duke who turned the blues into a sophisticated artform. A complex, composed and supremely flexible artform. First he made an ensemble of distinct voices, and then scored them with adventurous elaborations of the blues mood. There's not a single three-chord progression on this album; just superlative little pockets of blues in and around three minutes in length. Moody chords and warm solos. Hodges in fine, clear form. Nance, Carney, Strayhorn. All in compact/expansive jazz miniatures. Laid-back, lively and amazingly free with its genre, really putting the format out there, composing by tonal band colours, a supreme understanding and mastery and brevity. Not a cliche to be found.