Despite the successes of Benny Goodman, Andre Previn and most recently, Keith Jarrett and Brad Melhdau,I get nervous when jazz and classical musicians get together because they come from different bases. Jazz is swing, blues and improvisation. Classics is sticking to the written score. Classical conductors interpret Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, not improvise above its melody line. English conductor and the Birmingham Symphony put the concern to rest as they join with top rank jazz artists for more than an hour of dazzling performances of a cross section of Duke Ellington's music.
The album has both instrumentals and vocals. Of the former, several standout out, There's Clark Terry and Regina Carter on "That Doo-Wah-Thing", variations on "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing", with the members of the symphony swinging like mad. Bet they haven't that much fun in years. Terry, Bobby Watson, Joshua Redman. Joe Lovano and Regina Carter blast away on Ellington's signature, "Take the "A" Train". Individual members of the Symphony get a chance to show off as solists on a couple of cuts. John Barclay and Simon Gardner trumpets capture the blues on "Harlem".
But the gems of this album are the tracks when Lena Horne shows up. Turning back the clock, she engages the listener with as poignant "Something to Live" as you'll ever likely to hear with the Lovano tenor paying due respect to this doyen of song. Then she turns up the burners for "Maybe" supported by Watson's alto sax and an all star rhythm section of Geri Allen, Lewis Nash and Peter Washington. This rhythm section is on most tracks performing the seemingly impossible task of maintaining the jazz beat for each soloist without getting overwhelmed by the symphony. They pull it off without a hitch.
This is a fine album of Ellington/Billy Strayhorn music where the classical and jazz artist come together as one to honor the great composer. Recommended.
Personnel: Clark Terry - Trumpet; Bobby Watson - Alto Sax; Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano - Tenor Sax; Regina Carter - Violin; Geri Allen, Mike Renzi - Piano; Lewis Nash - Drums; Peter Washington - Bass; Lena Horne - Vocals; The Birmingham Symphony Orch., Simon Rattle - Conductor