Duke Ellington – The Conny Plank Session

The Conny Plank Session (Grönland)

Contact Jessica Linker about Duke Ellington – The Conny Plank Session

An American jazz legend in the twilight of his life encounters a young sound engineer and producer who is preparing to give pop a new sound. The essence of that special moment is documented with Duke Ellington & His Orchestra’s The Conny Plank Session, due out July 10th via Grönland.

 

For those unfamiliar with German producer and sound engineer Conny Plank, he was known for his work with Kraftwerk, NEU!, Cluster, Eurythmics, Ultravox, D.A.F., and many others, and his work is extremely important and influential.

 

Myths abound about Ellington and Plank working together at Rhenus Studio in Cologne sometime in 1970. However, with each tale, the crux of the story is the same – Ellington listened to the takes and praised Plank’s work. Plank admired Ellington and received recognition from the right person at the right time. Influence and recognition – it was a stroke of luck, and for Plank, a moment of realization and revelation.

 

As described by Henrik von Holtum, who wrote the album’s liner notes

 

Duke Ellington’s musical works are seemingly well documented; the likelihood of finding a good, unreleased Duke Ellington recording is slight at best. When Grönland Records called and told me they had found exactly that in Conny Plank’s estate and asked me if I wanted to give it a listen, I felt pretty honored, and excited. The music of Duke Ellington is – in my worldview – to jazz what Bach’s oeuvre is to classical music: THE great benchmark, or – to raise it up onto an even higher pedestal – the Old Testament, the alpha and omega. With both Bach and Ellington, you can sit down at a piano simply to go through it building chords and something great always happens. This music is so rich, and it is virtually indestructible.

 

I listened to the recordings for the first time in Grönland Records’ offices. One session, two songs: three takes each of “Alerado” and “Afrique.” They weren’t just alternate takes, like you often get on reissues of jazz classics; you can really hear Ellington working. He’s not just looking for the best take to get something clearly defined, he’s experimenting.

 

The tempi change, solo instruments are switched around, and, on the last take of “Afrique,” you can even hear soprano vocals. “Alerado” is a straightforward swing number, it features Wild Bill Davis on the organ, and, most notably, Cat Anderson on the trumpet, who provide a foundation for striking concepts of sonority and solo performance. The musical approach to “Afrique” is freer and more avant-garde; the foundation of the piece is a tom-tom based beat that is sustained throughout and layered with improvisations and arranged segments.

 

Conny was fascinated by how great the difference in tone was between his prior studio work and those takes; the Ellington big band was delivering something totally different, something better than he was accustomed to. It resulted in a recording that even Conny could be happy with. This session seems to have given an important impulse to his work, independent of the praise he received from the master.

 

This casts the bon mot often attributed to Conny that “every band gets the sound it deserves” in a different light; it no longer comes across as an arrogant remark, but as a clear conception of a simple fact: one can only produce what’s there – if the performance isn’t any good, technology won’t help either. So, for him, it was a moment of realization and revelation.

 

And ensuring that the performance was spot-on was one of Conny’s great talents. Independently of one another, artists he later produced repeatedly described how vital his kindheartedness, tranquility and circumspection were to producing successful recordings.

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