Sir Simon Rattle conducts the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in a celebration of Duke Ellington’s music. Each impressive orchestration has been reworked by Luther Henderson to provide a full sound. The orchestra performs admirably with accurate interpretations of classic Ellington songs. Along the way, we find Clark Terry, Bobby Watson, Joe Lovano, Regina Carter, Lewis Nash and Josh Redman trading solos with the ensemble. They work together on three tracks, recalling the personal spirit of Ellington’s music and how it was created to fit his individual band members.
Some time ago, Duke Ellington and Luther Henderson discussed what would some day become this particular project. Ellington asked Henderson to arrange “Harlem” (from “Far East Suite”) for performance by a symphony orchestra, combined with his band in concerto grosso form. The two gentlemen agreed that it would represent a blending of two cultural traditions: Western European and African.
Lena Horne sings three songs. Her vocal lines, however, were prerecorded. Thus, there’s a distinct separation in sound between vocalist and accompaniment. Horne’s features appear cold and distant, while Lovano, Watson, Nash, Geri Allen and Peter Washington attempt to make things appear more convincing.
Watson has a feature on “Isfahan” and Allen has a feature on “Ad Lib on Nippon,” while Carter and Terry take center stage for a lovely arrangement of “Come Sunday.” Much of the 80-minute album remains focused on celebrating Ellington’s music through full orchestral colors and carefully interwoven instrumental voices. As if to remind us of the balance achieved here between jazz and classical, Clark Terry takes over the closing number with a classic mumbles and wah-wah trumpet routine. The program makes a fine tribute to the music of Duke Ellington and presents these treasured pieces in a slightly different light.
Personnel: Clark Terry, John Barclay, Simon Gardner- trumpet; Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano- tenor saxophone; Bobby Watson- alto saxophone; Regina Carter- violin; Andrew Barnell- bassoon; Colin Parr- clarinet; Peter Walden- English horn; Richard Simpson- oboe; Geri Allen, Mike Renzi- piano; Peter Washington, Mark Goodchild- double bass; Lewis Nash- drums; Lena Horne- vocals; City of Birmingham [England] Symphony Orchestra.