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Edward "Duke" ELLINGTON (1899-1974)
Black, Brown and Beige (1943) orch. Maurice Peress [18:04]
Three Black Kings (1973) orch. Luther Henderson [19:11]
New World A-Comin’ (1943 revised 1960 revised by Maurice Peress c.1983) [13:47]
Harlem – for Jazz Band and Orchestra [15:23]
Frank Wess (alto saxophone); Richard Chamberlain (trombone); Jimmy Heath (tenor and soprano saxophones); Roland Hanna (piano); Stephen Hart (clarinet); John Faddis (trumpet); Bill Easley (clarinet); Ron Carter (bass); Butch Miles (drums)
American Composers Orchestra/Maurice Peress
rec. 1989
NIMBUS NI 2511 [66:44]

Experience Classicsonline


Nimbus has been picking up MusicMasters’ catalogue and restoring some highly diverting things to the catalogue. This one is a case in point. Maurice Peresss and the American Composers Orchestra are joined by some elite soloists to set down estimable recordings of four of Duke Ellington’s suites - two well known and two markedly less so.

The best known of the quartet, Black, Brown and Beige, has been orchestrated by Peress. We can hear what has to be the baritone saxophone of Joe Temperley in this one, whose evocation of Harry Carney is appropriate yet manages to retain total tonal independence of the illustrious model. Temperley – and Eugene Moye, the cello principal of the orchestra and Walt Weiskopf, the alto player in the orchestra – are not mentioned on the jewel box credits but they are noted in the booklet. Richard Chamberlain cleaves closer to Tricky Sam Nanton in his role and altoist Frank Wess, very much his own man, takes the Johnny Hodges role. It’s true that the orchestral garb can somewhat blunt the pungency of the Ellington scoring but this alternative look at one of Ellington’s most impressive, albeit most contentious, scores is splendidly realised on its own terms.

Three Black Kings was once written off by James Lincoln Collier – himself no stranger to controversy – as "movie music." What I think got to Collier was the rather generic, piecemeal quality of this ballet suite. Ellington’s three songs here were King of the Magi, King Solomon and Martin Luther King and the soloist is Jimmy Heath on tenor and soprano saxophones. There are some feints toward the exotic East and everything – not least Heath’s articulate playing – is exceptionally pleasant. But I’m with Collier here – the music lacks real distinction; it’s fluent but melodically uninvolving and strangely naïve for Ellington. It’s no great surprise to realise that it was left incomplete on Ellington’s death.

New World A-Comin’ is like Black, Brown and Beige another wartime work, again heard here in Peress’ revision. Roland Hanna takes the Ellingtonian piano part, which has been transcribed from the 1943 concert performance; Hanna though improvises the final cadenza. There’s also an excellent solo from clarinettist Stephen Hart. Finally there is Harlem – for Jazz Band and Orchestra perhaps the most impressive, because the most sheerly integrated, of all. There is a stellar quartet of soloists to attend this one and they play with tremendous awareness and control. The seamless quality of Harlem is certainly apparent in this tremendous performance – the variety of moods and textures; the stylistic variety; and that drum solo, played with verve by Butch Miles. And to have alongside you, Jon Faddis, Ron Carter and clarinettist Bill Easley is no bad thing.

The recording quality back in 1989 was – and remains – first class and we also have the advantage of Peress’s own sleeve notes. Symphonic Ellington strides confidently in this re-release.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 

 

 

 


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