Recent listening, current

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

12. Duke Ellington / Three Suites

Here we have interpretations of "Nutcracker" and "Peer Gynt," along with the Duke's own "Suite Thursday." Ellington and Strayhorn have the uncanny arranger's sense for wrapping an original composer's ideas around a new score. Yet this classical-to-jazz amalgam goes beyond Gershwin and is apart from what I consider the third stream. It's a new concept of jazz orchestration that sings to the strengths of the soloists, who do a magnificent job breathing life into the music while avoiding the pitfalls of stereotyping. The score crackles with imagination and the performances are a credit to the band as much as the leader. The notion of Paul Gonsalves blowing a chorus for ballet (listen to the rechristened "Peanut Brittle Brigade") is a tough sell on paper, but to hear it executed with success is an inspired feat of musicianship. Grieg's work is treated with similar respect, retaining atmosphere with reimagined orchestral textures, bursting with big chords and hot solos. I grin hearing the archetypal "Hall of the Mountain King," and I have either Carl Stalling or Nintendo's Tetris to thank for that.

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