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Blues In Orbit

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01
Three J's Blues
2:52
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02
Smada
2:36
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03
Pie Eye's Blues
3:25
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04
Sweet & Pungent
4:02
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05
C Jam Blues
4:50
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06
In A Mellow Tone
2:41
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07
Blues In Blueprint
3:41
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08
The Swingers Get The Blues, Too
3:07
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09
The Swinger's Jump
3:51
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10
Blues In Orbit
2:27
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11
Villes Ville Is The Place, Man
2:31
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12
Track 360
2:01
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13
Sentimental Lady
4:00
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14
Brown Penny
3:00
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15
Pie Eye's Blues
3:31
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16
Sweet & Pungent
3:50
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17
The Swinger's Jump
3:49
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18
Blues In Orbit
2:37
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19
Track 360
2:01
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Album Information

Total Tracks: 19   Total Length: 60:52

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They Say All Music Guide

Blues in Orbit lacks the intellectual cachet of the suites and concept pieces that loomed large in Ellington’s recordings of this period, but it’s an album worth tracking down, if only to hear the band run through a lighter side of its sound. Indeed, it captures the essence of a late-night recording date that was as much a loose jam as a formal studio date, balancing the spontaneity of the former and the technical polish of the latter. Ellington and company were just back from a European tour when the bulk of this album was recorded, at one after-midnight session in New York on December 2, 1959, with arrangements that had to be hastily written out when the copyist failed to appear for the gig. So on the one hand, the band was kicking back with these shorter pieces; on the other, the group was also improvising freely and intensely at various points. The title track, recorded more than a year before most of the rest, is a slow blues that puts Ellington’s piano into a call-and-response setting with the horns, with Ellington getting in the last word. “Villes Ville Is the Place, Man” is a bracing, beat-driven jaunt, highlighted by solos featuring Ray Nance, Harry Carney, and Johnny Hodges on trumpet, baritone sax, and alto, respectively. “Three J’s Blues” shows off composer Jimmy Hamilton playing some earthy tenor sax in a swinging, exuberant blues setting. “Smada” features Billy Strayhorn on piano and Johnny Hodges on alto, in a stirring dance number. “Pie Eye’s Blues” is a hot studio improvisation featuring Ray Nance and Jimmy Hamilton trading three solos each, while Ellington’s piano and the rest of the band try their emphatic best to get in a word or two.
Nance shows up on violin as part of a string of soloists (including Matthew Gee, Paul Gonsalves, Booty Wood, and Jimmy Hamilton) for “C Jam Blues,” whose four minutes’ running time affords the group a chance to jam without overdoing it or extending matters past the breaking point. Wood is the featured player on muted trombone on the slow, smooth “Sweet and Pungent.” A pair of more reflective, less extroverted numbers show off the more subtle side of the band: the slow, downbeat “Blues in Blueprint,” with Jimmy Woode’s bass and Harry Carney’s bass clarinet as the major featured players, with Strayhorn sitting in on piano and Ellington snapping his fingers; and “The Swingers Get the Blues, Too,” featuring Matthew Gee on baritone horn. The finale, “The Swinger’s Jump,” does just that, with Ellington, Hodges, Nance, Gee, Hamilton (on tenor and clarinet), Wood, and drummer Jimmy Johnson Jr. romping and stomping all over the basic riff. The CD edition of Blues in Orbit offered a trio of tracks off the same sessions when the album came: the bracing “Track 360,” an unpretentious jazz band’s impression of a train ride; the soaring, lovely “Brown Penny,” a number originally written for Ellington’s attempted interracial musical Beggar’s Holiday 13 years earlier; and the moody, reflective “Sentimental Lady,” featuring Johnny Hodges very prominently. Blues in Orbit was issued on CD by Columbia Records in 1988. This 2004, 24-bit remastered edition includes eight bonus tracks, including a previously unreleased version of the title cut that far surpasses the original and stands as a real anomaly in the Ellington catalog for Ellington’s impressionistic soloing. – Bruce Eder

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