Recent listening, current

Saturday, July 20, 2013

116. Duke Ellington / Such Sweet Thunder (1957)

In 1999, Such Sweet Thunder was released on CD, expanded and including outtakes. It's a fantastic stereo reconstruction of the originally intended program, complete with inter-track studio ambience akin to a concert hall, formerly available only in mono due to a flawed production. The album's original 12 selections are Duke's musical interpretations of various Shakespearean characters. It's another of his concept pieces, a tone parallel like Black, Brown, and Beige. The music is filled with quirky grinners, as in "Lady Mac," where Duke writes new personality into Lady Macbeth. It shows an indulgently swinging streak to the infamous noblewoman, hitherto unseen on stage. And who's to say that's incorrect? It's refreshing. Most notably, the Ellington-Strayhorn team uses soloists in the band to great effect in pieces like "Sonnet for Caesar," the first of four such sonnets on the album that emulate the 14 line poetic form. The soloists actually play the characters with their instruments, so I wonder, wryly, if the union rep had anything to say about that. "Caesar" features Sam Woodyard imparting an appropriately martial atmosphere while Jimmy Hamilton takes the lead (literally) to portray history's great general in a stately and beauteous, but ultimately tragic, melody. The arrangements for other songs continue the trend of band-as-cast in brilliant works like "Up and Down." Here, Puck (played by Clark Terry) quotes mischievously while working the play's couples into increasingly awkward situations. Just three examples, there are nine more to enjoy. It's ambitious, and the CD release is a treasure. It's sound is brilliantly spacious and clear, and we have all the session's complete takes in one place..  

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