Ellington-Blanton duets, Bluebird/BMG, rec 1940
Pitter Panther Patter
Sequenced vamps of elasticity and élan, with mini-trade fours scattered within. Ellington and Blanton weave in and out of the melody, and the elaboration and content blend seamlessly into one.
Body and Soul.
The opening arco playing coaxes so much melody out of the lowest of partials. The ear is not meant to understand melody as well in those low pitch area, so as to avoid being overwhelmed by the sound of our own heartbeats and blood flow. Lets be clear, the deviation here from equal temperament is for vocal expressivity. The vocal levity in this playing is amazing on an instrument that, in arco mode, can so easily be associated with a whale.
The outro piccicato soloing on take three is so detailed, so present, as to create the feeling of a person before you photographically detailed in its specificity. You're not just hearing the bass, you can hear the guy's hands playing the thing. It feels like a person is physically present. The feeling is impressive enough that you might even forget that Blanton, at the age of twenty one, is inventing the modern approach to the bass here. He would die of tuberculosis a few years later.
Ellington is restrained, relaxed and distant in the mix, since this recording was meant to showcase Blanton, but there's something powerful about Ellington being at this unusual volume remove in a duet setting, where the detailing of the piano is still vivid in spite of the distance. It's as though the sonic magnetism that is a central quality of his playing was amplified in direct proportion to the distance.
The sense of a person dealing with society in a complex way, which is often foregrounded in Ellington's big band, is not entirely absent here, but is transformed into the subtext of private conversion. Pleasure, subtlety, relaxation, intelligence, sensitivity, confidence, and expertise are the overt materials of feeling being put into play. The complexity within these things, and the necessity of balancing conflicting elements of life force and social world are still the fabric this is made from, channelled though a private exchange we are overhearing. Both things are in conflict with themselves and with each other, and yet a image of _dealing with it_ is created with an amazing sense of balance and beauty.
Mr. J.B. Blues
Even when Ellington is in his most restrained, minimal, straight-forward comping mode, he still can't keep the life information from pouring out of the voicings: information-rich dissonance. Arco solo from Blanton has its tension/relaxation thresholds fused in a way that suspends the normal dramatic tension one gets in a blues form. The duet tensions are broken into chucks the way they would be twenty years later on Money Jungle. This music was way, way ahead of it's time.