It doesn't get much simpler than this: just piano and bass. But there is so much music here, with Ellington and Brown just hitting the perfect groove. I love the de/reconstructed See See Rider. But it's the second side that really does it for me, the four-part Fragmented Suite for Piano and bass. This was just about the last session Duke ever recorded. And I've got to say, it's one of the most beautiful I've ever heard of his. Not that I've heard them all — in fact one of my new year resolutions is to listen to a lot more of the older albums Ellington did in the 50s and beyond. This is from the JP reissue of the Pablo album, and it's a bona fide barabara classic.
From the sleeve notes by Ray Brown:
Ellington and Blanton were only together a short time, but the thing they did as a duo, or as the Hodges Big Eight, or the whole Ellington Orchestra, were my total inspirational beginning. After Blanton's untimely death and in the years following, I had a fierce desire to play all of those same things with that band. However... I went on to other things. In the fall of 1972, Norman Granz called me and said, I want you to go up to Las Vegas in a couple of weeks and do a duo album with Duke of all the things that Blanton and Duke did together. First I panicked and then the desire began to return. It had been over thirty-five years since I stood outside those bars listening to that sound. Duke Ellington is gone now, and though he left many things for a lot of people, I received a little more. In fact, much much more.
When he died in 1942, Duke Ellington’s 21-year-old bassist, Jimmy Blanton, had liberated the string bass from its traditional role as an accompanist. Two of Blanton’s disciples, Ray Brown and Oscar Pettiford, carried forward his work of developing the bass into a solo instrument. Their contributions had a great deal to do with bebop’s becoming a mature music. More than 30 years after Blanton’s death, Brown went into a studio with Ellington to pay homage to his idol. Their duets echo the famous ones of Ellington and Blanton and demonstrate Brown’s creativity and virtuosity on the Blanton model.
If you like this, then check out Reza's post of the Ellington suites, also on Pablo... highly recommended!