One of the greatest live jazz festival recordings ever — and the best-selling jazz record of all time — has gotten better, and more interesting as well, with this SONY/Columbia Jazz 1999 reissue to celebrate Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington's 100th birthday. A result of the kind of effort that most record companies normally won't even discuss.
Ellington's original 1956 Newport album was his best-selling long-player ever, and re-established him, after a two-year drought in the wake of his unsuccessful stay at Capitol, as a vitally popular jazz artist, perceived as worth courting by the major labels. But that record was, in keeping with Columbia's standard operating procedure of the day, a cut-and-paste job made up of studio re-recordings of the festival's repertory.
The producers of the 1999 double-CD reissue, containing 20 tracks, have assembled the complete live performance in true, real stereo as well as the studio-produced tracks. The result is the first complete consideration of the actual Newport performance, as well as a complete account of the studio-generated portions of the original release.
The highlight is an extraordinarily vivid account of Paul Gonsalves' legendary 27-chorus tenor sax solo on "Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue." The latter ends Disc One, and Disc Two gives a vivid account of the aftermath of Gonsalves' moment of glory and finishes the live set. The concert portion is followed by the original LP's studio-generated fake-live productions, which aren't as exciting as the live renditions, but are worth hearing. - Review by Bruce Eder