Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Duke Ellington’s diversions into the concert hall deserve much wider acclaim, and these performances are strong advocates for his symphonic work.
Personnel: Eugene J. Moye (cello); Stephen Hart , Bill Easley (clarinet); Jimmy Heath (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Frank Wess, Walt Weiskopf (alto saxophone); Joe Temperley (baritone saxophone); Jon Faddis (trumpet); Richard Chamberlain (trombone); Butch Miles (drums).
Since Duke Ellington left behind a vast recorded legacy, later interpretations always are compared against them. Yet these symphonic treatments of four separate Ellington works are fundamentally different, with the emphasis less on soloists than the full orchestra. Conductor Maurice Peress condensed "Black, Brown and Beige" into a suite of three sections excerpted from the original extended work, though the mixing of this performance is atrocious. "Three Black Kings" was conceived as a ballet late in Ellington's life with the intention of having Luther Henderson orchestrate it, but the bandleader never recorded it prior to his death in 1974. Henderson's scoring would likely have pleased the maestro. "New World A-Comin'," like "Black, Brown and Beige," was premiered by Ellington at Carnegie Hall in the 1940s, though it was a more polished effort. Since the piano score was never written out and the band parts were long lost, Mercer Ellington approached Peress about re-creating it, which he did so from the Carnegie Hall recording. Sir Roland Hanna adds an elegant touch on piano, while Stephen Hart is given the challenging task of matching the brilliant clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton. Weakest of the four tracks is "Harlem," which pales beside both Ellington's live and studio recordings; Jon Faddis has the chops to play the trumpet part but is sabotaged by the inadequate mixing. This valiant project will appeal to serious fans of Duke Ellington's extended works, though jazz fans are advised to pick up the available interpretations by its composer first. ~ Ken Dryden
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