DUKE ELLINGTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA …And His Mother Called Him Bill (Speakers Corner)

“…And His Mother Called Him Bill” featured Ellington and orchestra playing “newly recorded versions of Billy Strayhorn compositions” in tribute to Ellington’s musical partner, pianist and arranger, who had died at the age of 51 in May 1967. The repertoire was drawn from material that had rarely, if ever, been recorded by Ellington, and included some of Strayhorn’s final compositions, one of which, “Blood Count”, he composed and arranged in hospital. Consequently, Strayhorn’s most famous works such as “Take The “A” Train” and “Lush Life” are conspicuously absent.

Perhaps that’s a good thing; hearing something so immediately familiar as “Take The “A” Train” in the midst of this record might have unbalanced it. Whilst there’s a great deal of meticulous care and attention enfolded into this album, eloquent, elegant musicianship seeping from its grooves, I have to admit that there’s nothing especially memorable about any of it. Yes, “Snibor” and “Boo-Dah” swing hard; “Blood Count”, Strayhorn’s last stand, is appropriately plangent and the small group sound of “The Intimacy Of The Blues” is just that. “Rock Skippin’ At The Blue Note” is all perky insouciance and “Lotus Blossom”, performed by Ellington alone at the end of a session as the band pack up around him, sounds like after hours at a smoky piano bar. But once the album’s finished all memory of it evaporates for me; it just doesn’t engage.

Its case isn’t helped by the sandpapery, rasping edge to this 1967 recording that even the normally scrupulous folk at Speakers Corner haven’t been able to polish out of their lovingly pressed and packaged 180 gram reissue.