Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: The Conny Plank Session (Groenland)

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra
The Conny Plank Session
Groenland Records61368

Sometimes, the idea of a dream collaboration is much better than the reality. That Beatles reunion tape from the 1970s? A toot and a bore, really. The Miles Davis/Jimi Hendrix collaboration? Never recorded, and the pair apparently didn’t hit it off in the studio. Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan? It’s best we need not speak of that train wreck again. So when the internet world went a-flutter at the notion of a recording session between legendary jazz pioneer Duke Ellington and internationally acclaimed progressive German producer Conny Plank, it felt like the world was about to receive a rare jewel of unheralded renown.

In 1970, in the midst of a European tour, Ellington sought out a studio space so that his band could rehearse some new material, and Plank arranged the session.Ellington’s practice at the time was to make what he called “stockpile recordings” of his rehearsal sessions, and this is what took place. The session yielded three takes of two songs, “Alerado” and “Afrique,” both newer compositions that had yet to be fully road tested or recorded. Both songs are mellow swing numbers, vibrant in a way that makes them easily identifiable as Ellington compositions. The structure of both songs remain the same, but there are variations in tempo and instrumentation that keeps them from being monotonous listening, while vocals are found on take three of “Afrique,” performed by an unidentified vocalist. Were it not for the name “Conny Plank,” these sessions would have been filed away quietly with the rest of Ellington’s vast rehearsal tape collection.

While the Duke Ellington “session” with Conny Plank isn’t particularly noteworthy for its fruits, and isn’t really important to the Ellington history, its influence and importance stems from the impression left on the burgeoning studio wizard. It’s not hard to imagine that Plank thoroughly studied Ellington’s method of working with his band and incorporated the interplay into his work, which was soon to result in some of the most innovative records of the decade. 

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