Exploring the music of Duke Ellington and his orchestra is something of an endless pursuit, despite the fact that Ellington himself passed away almost four decades ago. For the initiated, it's a happy thing that there is so much music out there to explore, because it's rare not to encounter some entertaining listening. The universe expands even more when one turns down the road of "Ellingtoniana," since various orchestra members went on to lead their own bands, congregate as smaller combos pulled from the big band, or just make some record dates here and there as a leader. The latter is essentially the case with the limited number of discs credited to trumpeter William "Cat" Anderson.
As detailed in the extensive liner notes on Cat on a Hot Tin Horn, Anderson left the Ellington orchestra to strike out on his own as a leader in the late '40s. However, the post-World War II years were tough ones financially for the big bands and, as with many of Ellington's longtime players who departed, Anderson returned to his chair as high-note specialist within a couple years. Although remaining a safe haven for formerly wayward players, the Ellington aggregation also went through some lean times in the '50s prior to its triumphant return to mainstream prominence via a near-riot causing set at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. It's probably not a coincidence that Cat appeared fairly shortly after, in 1958, as the decade following Newport '56 saw an absolute bombardment of Ellington-related disc activity.
Though Cat on a Hot Tin Horn was recorded quite some time after Anderson's return to the Ellington band, apart from fellow trumpet Clark Terry the session eschews other members of the '58 band. There are a few other Ellington alumni in the group (Reunald Jones, Henderson Chambers, Jimmy Forrest), along with other veterans of '30s-'40s big bands and, intriguingly, some bop-era players who worked on the Gil Evans-Miles Davis collaborations of the late '50s (Ernie Royal, Jimmy Cleveland, Frank Rehak).
As the session was recorded with a seemingly random group of players, you may guess Cat is a blowing session ... and you'd be mostly right. It's not a disc of all standards covers. Six Anderson-arranged and written originals are featured, along with the obligatory Ellington cover (“Don't Get Around Much Anymore”) and a pair of tunes by legendary Tin Pan Alley triumvirate Henderson-DeSylva-Brown. The solos are clearly denoted on the album jacket, so there's no need to get too into who does what; on a majority of tracks, the solos are shared between Anderson and "Night Train" author Forrest.
The copy I found is stereo, which on '50s discs can sometimes make for distractingly strange listening on headphones. Cat, though, features a solid medium-wide stereo mix that is well balanced for headphone listening. The rhythm section is approximately down the middle, with horn ensembles opposing each other on either side but allowing some bleed to the other channel, and soloists often -- but not always -- sort of left of center. (Mercury/EmArcy SR 80008, stereo; MG 36142, mono, 1958; at some point re-numbered as Mercury MG 20522/SR 60199)