Saturday, 20 February 2010

Impromptu in Ellingtonia

Some of the richest and most rewarding writing for dance bands dates from that period at the end of the forties and into the fifties when the Swing Era had effectively blown itself out.

It's one of my favourite periods of Ellington – favourite, period, in fact; there’s the First and Second Herman Herds, the indefatigable Kenton’s Innovations Orchestra. Then there are the more ‘pastel’ bands – Claude Thornhill, Boyd Raeburn – and Ike Carpenter.

I have been spending a great deal of time lately listening to Ike Carpenter and his Orchestra: Dancers in Love on the Jazz Band label – a British company – which like Hep – does sterling work in ensuring the continued circulation of these rare recorded treasures.

Carpenter’s was a smaller band – between ten and a dozen players – almost a territory outfit, working out of the Los Angeles area in 1946 and 1947.

Appropriately enough, the pianist studied at Duke University – for his band was characterized by an infatuation with all things Ellingtonian. The title of this collection, for example, is taken from a movement of The Perfume Suite – one of those sugared parlour pieces – like The Clothed Woman – which are typical, largely, of this period alone in Ellington’s output. Carpenter gives a sure, but fleet-fingered touch to this jaunty refrain, couched in rich section writing which does not betray the relatively small size of the band.

And this is true of the other pieces on this CD, from the band’s theme, Mercer Ellington’s Moon Mist to Strayhorn’s Take the A Train.

It is not a pale imitation the band offers of these charts, however, but a homage of great sophistication and sensitivity. This is evident in the new music which was borne out of these arrangements. I had been eager to track down Carpenter’s recording of Day Dream, for example, ever since I discovered the Charlie Barnet album Lonely Street last year (see here). In not wanting to score the number for alto saxophone alone – thus echoing Johnny Hodges’ work on the original version too much, arranger Paul Villepigue scored the chart mainly for the leader’s piano, transposing the alto saxophone to a specially written introduction. This introduction became the basis for Paul’s own composition, Lonely Street. You can hear a song being born in those opening moments of Ike Carpenter’s Day Dream.

There is a fascinating article from Downbeat about the Ike Carpenter band at the website dedicated to Paul Villepigue’s memory here.

More detail on this particular arrangement of Day Dream can be found, too, by visiting the Archive page and scrolling down.

Ike Carpenter and his Orchestra: Dancers in Love can be purchased here.

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