This year, as you are all aware, is the 100th anniversary of Duke Ellington's birth. Reissues and tribute CDs are arriving on music store shelves at an amazing rate. This record is a most welcome addition to the list.
Alice Babs is a most captivating performer and was born in Sweden in 1924. Though no longer an active recording artist, Prophone Records of Sweden saw fit to digitally remaster material from two sessions in 1974 and 1975. The results are nothing less than wonderful. The first is from Swedish Broadcasting Corporation material and includes nine tracks with the Nils Lindberg band in accompaniment. The other session includes six songs recorded at Saint Maria Magdelena Church in Stockolm in 1975 and Alice is accompanied by Ulf Wesslen at the church organ.
Duke Ellington first met Alice Babs in 1963 for a Swedish TV program and Duke immediately recognized a super talent. A recording session followed in Paris a few months later. The association and friendship continued and in 1968, Alice was invited to sing with Ellington at the premiere of his "Second Sacred Concert" and in 1973 she appeared again with Duke at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Although I had heard "about" Alice in the past, this CD allowed me my first opportunity to hear her on record. Believe me! This is a superb listening experience. The singer has tremendous control and her upper register work is beyond the imagination of many great jazz vocalists. When Duke died in 1974, Alice sang a tribute at the Cathedral of Saint John The Devine in New York on the day of the funeral. Following the ceremony, Alice was approached by Edmund Anderson who presented her with his lyrics "Thank You For Everything" to the tune of Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom". Duke's friend, the Reverend Father Gerry Pocock, encouraged Alice to record the song. It appears on this CD accompanied by church organ.
This CD, "Serenading Duke Ellington", contains a fine mix of Ellington material and is primarily secular. However, some "sacred" compositions are included. This is a collection of fabulous melodies performed by an incredible singer and top notch musicians. Alice renders the difficult numbers such as "Warm Valley" with absolute confidence.
Without a doubt, this is the finest vocal recording of the Duke's compositions that I have ever experienced in my many years of collecting jazz. My editor allows a five star maximum rating. If I was able, I'd give this CD a few more stars indeed.