To successfully play a set of standards by Duke Ellingtonsuch as pianist Marie Louise Schmidt, bassist Helle Marstrand, drummer Benita Haastrup and horn player Christina Dahl do on The Sophisticated Ladies play Ellingtonrequires musicians to become arrangers.
After all, many people are familiar with "Caravan," "In A Sentimental Mood," and Ellington's other master works. Most will be looking for something new.
The Sophisticated Ladies offer up 10 clever and fresh versions of Ellington, handing much of the melody work to Christina Dahl's lively, breathy saxophone. Her loose playing style gives many of the tunes a relaxed feel and, backed by the innovative drumming of Benita Haastrup, may cause you to fall in love with Ellington's music yet again.
You may also fall in love with these ladies, who play with confidence and ease. They're so comfortable playing on this studio date that it feels like something taped before an appreciative crowd.
Though the band comes at Ellington though the blues, Dahl and Schmidt can kick out some wonderful bopping scales that compliments their music. Adding Haastrup's often funky drumming makes for some surprising twists on familiar tunes.
Highlights include Dahl's improvisation on the melody of "In A Sentimental Mood," using an amazing vibrato to add dimension to her performance; Haastrup's beginning to "Very Special," which gets the whole band rolling in a groove; and the opening lines of "I Ain't Got Nothing But the Blues," which captures the mood of an after-hours, smoky lounge band.
Schmidt uses rolling arpeggios for "Come Sunday," adding a taste of Southern gospel, contrasted by her Ray Charles-ish opening to "The Shepherd," which follows.
Stripping Ellington down to a four-piece band may limit the sophistication possible, but the Sophisticated Ladies show just how strong the music can be.
Personnel: Marie Louise Schmidt: piano; Helle Marstrand: bass; Benita Haastrup: drums; Christina Dahl: saxophone.