When the Duke Ellington Orchestra added the star power of Bassist Jimmy Blanton and Tenor Saxophonists Ben Webster, the band rocketed into one of its most productive periods. This 'era' is affectionately referred to as the "Blanton-Webster Band" and was responsible for gems such as Take the A Train, Cottontail, Harlem Airshaft, Concerto for Cootie, and many more.
I am including this in my series this month largely because this is the album I recommend when someone asks how to get into Ellington. While the Ellington Band, and Duke Ellington by extension experienced many highpoints between the 50 years they were active, this era is often discussed as maybe the highest of those peaks. There are several reasons - one is the addition of those two soloistict stars- ny Blanton and Webster, but it was also the addition of arranger Billy Strayhorn as well as figures such as Johnny Hodges coming into his own. This is also a period which featured many 3-minute symphonies. The recording technology of this time allowed for only about a 3-minute recording. Ellington was masterful at organizing a lot of material to fit into those three minutes. These tunes/arrangements have a certain artful brevity to them.
Here is a pro tip- there are two versions of this floating around in the digital sphere - one from a released from 1986 and reissued in 1990 referred to simply as "The Blanton Webster Band." It was repackaged, re-masted, and renamed in 2003 as "Never No Lament: The Blanton Webster Years" The 2003 version includes additional takes of nine tunes; however, my ears vastly prefer the 1990 version. I think the sound is cleaner and it simply provides for a better listening experience!